The Carnian Pluvial Event
Did it really rain on Earth for 2 million years?
Today’s feedback is from Brent C. from Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, about the so-called Carnian Pluvial Event, which is said to have changed Earth’s climate and disrupted life all over the planet. The following is his question (slightly edited):
I recently heard of the Carnian Pluvial Event, which supposedly occurred some 232 million years ago. At this time, it is claimed to have rained on the earth for 2 million years—not as a single event but on multiple occasions. Those who promote this event claim it explains the many geological sites that show massive and catastrophic flooding.
How seriously is this theory regarded in mainstream scientific circles? And, how old is this theory? It seems to me that if this theory was old there would likely be a lot more information about it online. Also, I would have thought that a theory with such close similarities to the Bible would be shunned by mainstream scientists. Thank you for your web site and all the wonderful work your entire organization does to present God’s truth in the face of overwhelming opposition.
Thank you for your question and your encouragement. We have been able to find articles and videos on the web about the ‘Carnian Pluvial Event’.
The evolutionary story
In a nutshell, the ‘Carnian Pluvial Event’ is a fictitious invention based on a speculative interpretation of certain geological rock layers. It assumes the rocks were deposited over millions of years, rather than in a few days during the Noah’s Flood catastrophe. Geologists invent a name like ‘Carnian Pluvial Event’ for features they find in the rock layers, and this makes it sound like a real event that really happened over millions of years. It also gives other academics a name to hang their research on. To an uncritical thinker the name makes it sound very convincing.
The name is impressive partly because of the words it uses, and partly because of its aura of mystery. The name Carnian is derived from the name of a geological stage within the Triassic Series of the geological column (see the Geology Transformation Tool for details). Note that the Carnian Stage is currently assigned an evolutionary age from 237 to 227 million years ago (i.e., 10 million years). Pluvial is an adjective that means ‘related to rainfall’. Although the article you mention calls it an event, other academics refer to it as a ‘period’, ‘crisis’, ‘episode’, or ‘age’. This ‘event’ is said to have lasted for 2 million years, which is only some 20% of the rocks classified as Carnian.
The narrative was first proposed in the mid to late 80’s by Michael Simms and Alastair Ruffell of the UK. However, their story was overlooked for a long time—a couple of decades. But in the last decade it has captured people’s imagination. Academics are now adding more and more sub-plots about hot-button issues such as climate change, biological extinction, huge volcanic eruptions, global warming, atmospheric carbon dioxide, and more.
You asked why this idea was not shunned by mainstream scientists thinking it would be too similar to the Bible. I doubt geologists would think there is any similarity between their Carnian Pluvial Event and the biblical Flood because their event supposedly occurred millions of years ago and lasted for 2 million years.
The story is that around 232 million years ago the climate of the whole earth changed such that it exited a dry period and entered a long, wet season. Rain was not continuous, but incessant compared to the so-called dry period beforehand. The idea of a dry period came from the red colouring of the rocks, which was assumed to be due to dry conditions. The idea of a wet period came from the types of fossils found in those rocks as well as the sort of sediments. But, in fact, these rocks were all deposited during Noah’s Flood, so there was no dry period. We will discuss this later.
The narrative comprising the Carnian Pluvial Event acts as a base from which other stories can be added. One such extension is that huge volcanic eruptions occurred at this time, enhancing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, promoting global warming, and inducing a wetter climate. This feeds dramatically into the current discussion about the earth’s climate and makes the ‘event’ of considerable interest and relevance to environmentalists.
The narrative can be extended further by using other features, such as the sorts of fossils found in the rocks. They claim it was a period of both ‘sharp disappearance’ of many species followed by rapid dinosaur evolution. The idea is that the ‘period’ may have stimulated rapid dinosaur evolution, with a significant shift from crurotarsans (reptiles) to dinosaurs. Again, such a disruption to the animal distribution is enough to cause wide concern about our modern situation on the earth. Of course, it is worth reminding ourselves that no one saw this happen. It is all conjecture. The fact is (from a biblical perspective) that the distribution of fossils is a product of the way the creatures were overcome by the global Flood. It has nothing to do with atmospheric carbon-dioxide concentration, or climate change.
Although this story is becoming very popular, it is worth noting that there have been significant challenges to this idea from other academics, who would all hold to a long-age interpretation of the rocks. Some suggest that the evidence cited does not reflect a global shift in climate, but regional shifts in rainfall, or regional changes in groundwater levels. Others suggest it might reflect sea level changes (even simply regional changes).
We do not accept any of these long-age interpretations developed by evolutionary academics. Instead, in order to understand the situation, we use a biblical approach.
The biblical interpretation
From the Geology Transformation Tool (figure 1) we can see that the period 232 to 234 million years ago falls within the Triassic System, as we already know. However, from the green arrow to the right-hand side of the figure, we can see that this was the period when the waters of Noah’s Flood were rising on the earth. It was likely about 4 months after the Flood started and about a month before the waters peaked, which they did after 5 months (Genesis 8:2–4). This means that the different sorts of rocks are not a result of different climate, but due to differences in the source, transport, and deposition of sediment during Noah’s Flood. And because the Flood was a global catastrophe this sedimentation covered a huge geographical area—continental in scale and even larger (see Continent wide sedimentary strata).
Further, the distribution of fossils does not reflect the evolution of species, but rather their death and burial. From this biblical perspective, the fossil record is not an evolutionary sequence, but a death sequence under increasingly difficult conditions–first the small, less mobile creatures, then the coastal bound species, and finally the larger more evasive species.
It is worth noting that there were volcanic eruptions during the Flood, many of which were enormous. These were a consequence of the catastrophic crustal upheavals on earth (see Volcanoes and Tamu Massif). The claimed ‘rapid disappearance’ of species noted at this time was not due to increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but to the global Flood, which overwhelmed and buried them. Some of the species living at the time survived the Flood while others didn’t.
Did it really rain on Earth for 2 million years? No! But it did rain with great intensity during the one-year global Flood. The sedimentary rocks that cover much of the world, and the fossil abundance within them are the physical evidence of the Flood. These fossils and their relationships reflect more complexity than is often discussed or argued—such as finding marine and land-based fossils entombed together in the same sediments. So, the Carnian Pluvial Event is not a period, or age, but an elaborate story invented around certain geological deposits that were emplaced in a very short period, a day or less, during the global Flood as the waters were rising.
All the best to you,
Ron Neller and Tas Walker