Your eyes slowly open to the soft light falling on your face. You look out of the frosted window to see a white blanket of…snow! The next few hours will be filled with snowball fights, making a snowman, possibly an attempt of forming an igloo (It never worked). This scene is one that I am very familiar with and experienced each year as a kid (Snowball fights are still a blast). I would sometimes pretend that I was in the frozen wasteland of the Ice Age!
When one says, Ice Age, what comes to mind? For many, it may be the popular Ice Age movies with the iconic saber-toothed squirrel chasing his beloved acorns. It might make you think of home if you live in an area with regular snow and ice-fall. But, what does the term “Ice Age” really mean?
The accepted paradigm today is that Earth goes through cycles of glaciation (that is a period of time where glaciers and ice sheets cover large portions of the earth) and inter-glacial (periods where glaciers retreated. Some of these periods are theorized that the earth was “ice-free” at some points). These cycles are called Milankovitch Cycles named after the scientist Milankovitch. He looked at three factors of the Earth to develop these cycles: Eccentricity (orbit of the earth), Obliquity (the angle of tilt on the Earth’s axis), and Precession (The change in on the orientation of Earth’s axis). Earth’s orbit is very close to being the shape of a perfect circle, but not quite. It is slightly off. Therefore, the shape is called an ellipse. Milankovitch proposed that this shape would continue to alternate from .0005 (almost a circle) to about .06 (more like an ellipse). At times, during a cycle of about 100,000 years, this change in eccentricity would take Earth further from the sun, cooling the surface. The Obliquity, or angle of tilt, also varies slightly causing one hemisphere to have less sun radiation than another, further cooling the surface (cycle of about 40,000 years). Lastly, the precession, or change in orientation of the planet’s axis, is caused due to a slight wobble of the Earth’s axis as well as the combination of the other two factors just discussed [Cycle of about 23,000 years] (3). All of these cycles together, Milankovitch stated, could account for enough change in solar radiation and to allow for a build up of snow and ice over long periods of time, causing an Ice Age.
So, is there any evidence for an Ice Age? Well, we would have to first look at the features that modern glaciers produce and compare with features of supposed ice age glaciers. Today, we can see glaciers in several places throughout the world. For the most part, these glaciers and ice sheets are in more mountainous regions where it is much colder or at the poles (Greenland and Antarctica) where there is must less solar radiation. Therefore, we can study the retreat and forward motion of glaciers and the features associated with them and then compare with features we see on rocks from the past. What do we find! Yes! There is evidence for an Ice Age!
Today, we find rocks that have been “polished” or have striations (lines and grooves). Glaciers, as they move, can pick up large boulders and small rocks alike. This sort-of cargo is now drug along the bottom of the glacier and comes into contact with the rock surfaces below. Larger stones will gouge out grooves while smaller rocks or even sediment and rock powder “polish” stone surfaces (the surfaces become more smooth and flattened). We can see these same processes occurring in modern glacial environments. We also see rock layers called till. Till is a mixture of boulders, sediment, rock fragments, and gravel (Different tills vary). Till can form in many ways such as being carried on top of the glacier and then falling off as the ice melts, being drug along underneath, melting out of the ice, being pushed along, etc. When we look at ancient layers of rock, we often see these layers of till telling us that glaciation has occurred in the past. Another glacial feature is called a moraine. Moraines are mounds or ridges of till and rock material that has been pushed by a glacier. We find ancient moraines all over, as well as new ones that are being formed today as glaciers grind along. These features are only a few that show evidence of glacial activity.
Geologists use information about these features everyday; many times, in construction and building. In studying till, geologists noticed that there were repetitive layers in between layers of other sediments along with possible plant matter. This suggests many cycles of forward moving ice followed by retreat. The accepted conclusion to explain these layers is the possibility of multiple ice ages in the past. The most recent ice age or period of glaciation (Of which many state we are still in) is thought to have begun about 2.6 million years ago.
(Note: These theories assume an age for the Earth at about 4.6 Billion years based on radiometric dating and other methods.)
So, does this theory of Milankovitch cycles and multiple ice ages hold truth? We must take a deeper look at the evidence as well as what is necessary for an ice age to form.
Colder temperatures are not the main necessity for an Ice Age. An accumulation of snow and compaction of that snow to form enough ice for glaciers to begin their advance is the main necessity.
Dr. Andrew Snelling, geologist, researcher, and PhD scientist, writes in his book Earth’s Catastrophic Past:
“It was once thought that colder winters were the main requirement for glaciation, but winters are still cold enough over ares that were once covered by ice sheets. In fact, winters are now too cold in places such as Siberia, where no glaciers now exist. Rather, to produce an ice sheet the winter snow must survive the summer and continue to accumulate year by year, so it is crucial that summers were colder than they are today for snow to survive.”
Normally, summer temperatures melt snow which had fallen during the winter season. This does not allow for gradual snow accumulation. Snelling goes on to discuss how although Siberia is cold enough, summer temperatures melt the winter snow. He states:
“Thus, the requirements for an Ice Age would appear to be a combination of cooler summers and greater snowfall than today.” (1, 2)
So, does the theory currently proposed meet these requirements? On the surface, the theory of Milankovitch cycles seems to make sense that it would lower temperature to allow snow accumulation. (And it might lower temperature, but to a point). However, there are a few factors that need to be added in.
One of the problems with this theory is called the “Phase Problem.” What we find today is evidence of glaciation on both the northern and southern hemispheres. This means the hemispheres are “in-phase.” However, the Milankovitch theory only shows that there would be a slight change in solar radiation on the upper latitudes of one hemisphere. Therefore, when one hemisphere is receiving less solar radiation, the other should be receiving more and not experience the conditions necessary for an Ice Age. (So, the theory shows the hemispheres being “out-of-phase”). So, how would the conditions from one half of the planet sporadically spread to the other? This question has been heavily explored without a solid explanation so far. (Some explanations deal with changes in sudden changes in seasonal accumulations of snow, however an agreed solution has not been decided).
Another problem is that theorized change in solar radiation during the cycles is relatively small and not enough to cause an Ice Age as proposed . Also, even if it was a significant change, temperatures also depend on heat transfer “by the atmosphere and oceans” (1). Snelling writes:
“This transport would lessen the cooling at higher latitudes caused by reduced sunshine…”
So, any cooling that may occur could be easily canceled out by the heat transferred from the oceans and the atmosphere. Especially, if, during a Milankovitch cycle, the southern hemisphere is receiving more solar radiation than the northern. Heat could be transferred from the southern half to the northern half.
Also, a key component with snow accumulation is the amount of water available for snow fall. Even if temperatures were to drop significantly, the air would become much drier and evaporation would dwindle. This would greatly slow or stop large amounts of snow fall (8). Once again, cooling temperatures are not enough. Necessary conditions for accumulation of snow over time is a must.
Regardless of these points, as well as the fact that this theory has been under harsh scrutiny for many years, the assumption that it is correct has been accepted and used. Dating methods in ice cores and isotope measurements have been tuned to this assumption as well.
There are actually more theories than just this one as they attempt to answer the problems or questions that arise from the Milankovitch theory. Milankovitch cycles is the most commonly accepted, but many others are still in circulation. (One, for example discusses plants and organisms removing carbon dioxide from the air to result in cooling. This still does not answer the problem of evaporation or accumulation of snow) (9).
So, is there a possible alternative answer to these theories? Yes! A possible answer lies within Noah’s Flood.
(I will bring this topic up quite frequently, since the flood would have had massive effects not only on geology but also weather and many other systems as well. I will be addressing the topic of Catastrophic Plate Tectonics in this next section. It might be helpful to reread my post A Flood of Truth? or read it for the first time to get a better understanding of what I mean.)
The CPT model involves plate tectonic movement on a massive scale during the flood. The plates and continents were moving at much greater speeds than today’s plates are. As new lithosphere (plate) was being formed at the ridges, a lot of heat was added to the ocean due to hot lava entering ocean water. This activity occurred rapidly and over the entire planet leaving the ocean relatively warm in comparison to today. Volcanoes and eruptions also spewed massive amounts of volcanic ash into the air. These particles reflected sunlight and thus cooled the surface of the earth. As the surface cooled, the increased heat in the oceans caused mass evaporation, releasing water into the atmosphere. This fell back to earth as snow, due to the cooling that was occurring. As more and more snow and ice fell and accumulated, sunlight reflection only increased, further cooling Earth’s surface. Eventually, the ocean would cool due to less volcanism (less hot lava) and evaporation would release energy from the waters. The ice would stop accumulating would instead begin to cool as particles in the atmosphere fell out. Michael J. Oard, Atmospheric Scientist, meteorologist, and writer estimates the total time, from beginning to end for the Ice Age, to about 700 years (8).
There are still a few questions that come with this theory though. Can ice accumulate that quickly? What about the layers of sediment in between the layers of till?
The theory of the Ice Ages taking or lasting tens of thousands of years and even longer suggests the slow accumulation of snow and ice. However, it has been observed that ice accumulates rapidly in the right conditions. A magnificent example of this was the search and discovery of “The Lost Squadron.”
On July 15, 1942, a squadron of U.S. military planes took off. A storm caused them to make an emergency landing on the ice sheets of Greenland, leaving the crew stranded for several days. After a rescue, the planes were left on that ice sheet not to be seen again for decades. Eventually, in the 1980’s, someone got curious enough to go searching for the planes. What they found was not what they had thought. With the use of radar, the planes were discovered.
One in particular, a P-38 fighter, was recovered and restored to once again fly! However, these planes were not sitting under blankets of snow, but rather 75 meters of ice! This discovery was made a mere 40 years after the planes were abandoned to the ice sheets of Greenland, yet an astounding amount of snow accumulated and compacted into ice. This seems like such a short time due to previous assumptions of ice age snow accumulation (11).
Now, addressing the layers of sediment between layers of till. Multiple layers of till, originally assumed as multiple ice ages, have been shown form today in Iceland. Till can be thrust on top of another layer, till can melt out of the glacier onto preexisting till, till deposited on top of glaciers can melt off and be re-deposited on till layers below, etc. Also, sediments can be formed in one layer and “sheared” causing multiple layers in cross-section (7). So, if glaciers deposited layers of till as we observe today, let’s say, three or four hundred years ago (Therefore, before anyone recorded it) and we assumed today that they were layered tens of thousands of years ago merely because there are multiple layers, we would be wrong! If we can observe such a phenomena today, why would we assume multiple ice ages?
There is also the possibility of the Bible recording some aspects of the end of the Ice Age. The book of Job refers to ice and storms multiple times. According to genealogy, Job could have lived towards the winding down of the ice and glaciation. One passage, Job 37: 9-10 says:
“Out of the south comes the storm, and out of the north the cold. From the breath of God ice is made, and the expanse of the waters if frozen.”
Right after this, Job describes what might be a very large storm. This could also be some of the very powerful hurricanes and storms that would have resulted after the flood. Other occasions in Job 38 (22-23, 29-30) describe the “frost of heaven” and “storehouses of snow.” These references may not have anything to do with the Ice Age, however they very well could with the timeline.
(Now, the theory of the ice age form a creationist standpoint does not have the glaciers covering the whole of the earth. It wasn’t a “snowball earth” situation as geologists would describe it.)
Which theory is right? Many mysteries of the Ice Age still remain and neither theory may have an answer yet. Does the evidence provided point to many Ice Ages over millions of years, or does it point to a single event caused by the after effects from the world-wide flood? I encourage you to read and research for yourself and develop your own thoughts on this topic.
(Also, as a geologist, I encourage you to go out and look at the rocks! They can really show a visual of what these topics discuss. And they’re just cool!)
- Snelling, A. A. (2014). Earth’s Catastrophic Past: Geology, Creation, & the Flood (Vol. 2). Green Forest, AR: Master Books.
- Sarfati, J. D. (2015). The Genesis account: a theological, historical, and scientific commentary on Genesis 1-11. Powder Springs, GA, USA: Creation Book Publishers.
- Howard, K. (n.d.). Milankovitch Theory. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://academic.emporia.edu/aberjame/student/howard2/milan.htm
- Oard, M. J. (n.d.). Phase problems with the astronomical theory. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://creation.com/phase-problems-with-astronomical-theory
- Oard, M. J. (n.d.). Astronomical troubles for the astronomical hypothesis of ice ages. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://creation.mobi/astronomical-troubles-for-the-astronomical-hypothesis-of-ice-ages
- Ehlers, J., Hughes, P. D., & Gibbard, P. L. (2016). The Ice Age. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://site.ebrary.com.proxy.olivet.edu/lib/olivet/detail.action?docID=11115173
- Oard, M. J. (2015). Only one glaciation observed in western Alberta, Canada— the ice-age reinforcement syndrome. Journal of Creation. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j29_2/j29_2_12-13.pdf
- Oard, M. J. (n.d.). What caused the Ice Age? Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://creation.com/what-caused-ice-age
- Marshall, M. (2010, May 24). The history of ice on Earth. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn18949-the-history-of-ice-on-earth/
- Oard, M. J. (n.d.). Long-age puzzle of thin ice at the edge of the Laurentide Ice Sheet. Retrieved January 23, 2017, from https://creation.com/images/pdfs/tj/j18_2/j18_2_5-6.pdf
- Wieland, C. (n.d.). The lost squadron. Retrieved January 24, 2017, from http://creation.com/the-lost-squadron
Special Thanks to Marli Miller Photography! http://marlimillerphoto.com/