Creation 44(1):48–51, January 2022
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Cave, stalactites, and other cave formations
Caves formed late in the Flood, and their limestone formations in the subsequent Ice Age
Secular earth scientists claim that the Bible (specifically Genesis 1–11) can’t be true because numerous past and present geological processes operate much too slowly to fit within its history. For example, it is claimed that sediments deposit so slowly today that it would take millions of years for all the world’s sedimentary rocks to form. Caves and their formations (speleothems) are another example.
Uniformitarian challenges to the Bible
These claims assume that uniform, gradual, slow processes such as we see today can explain all past geological events—a philosophy called uniformitarianism. This rejects catastrophes, especially Noah’s Flood, as the agency forming the rocks quickly. This assumption has ruled secular earth science since the late 1700s. It gained ascendancy during the so-called Enlightenment, when very little was known of the geology of the world.
Noah’s Flood turns all of this on its head. The Flood provides a far better explanation for sedimentation and much else. Reinterpreting earth science through the lens of the global Flood resolves numerous long-standing geological problems. One of these is the formation of caves, and of speleothems—the ‘decorations’ inside caves.
Caves assumed to contradict the Bible
Speleothems come in a wide variety of forms, including stalactites (fig. 1) and stalagmites (fig. 2). Sometimes as stalactites grow down and stalagmites grow up, they join to form a column (fig. 3), which can be massive and display fanciful shapes. Speleothems also include flowstones, which are sheets of carbonate deposited on the cave walls or floors (fig. 4). Based on present-day speleothem growth rates, secular scientists claim that caves took hundreds of thousands to millions of years to reach their present state.1
Very weak acid assumed to form caves
The formation of caves and cave decoration is a two-step process. First the cave opening (cavity) develops, by processes which dissolve carbonate (limestone). Later, the speleothems develop by processes which deposit carbonate.
Secular scientists have long proposed that caves were formed by carbonic acid, a weak acid formed when carbon dioxide from the air dissolves into water in the soil.2 This water then seeps into the subsoil carbonate rock and dissolves it, forming an opening that progressively enlarges. Today this is observed to be a very slow process, and so it would take a long time for a cave to form this way.
But this uniformitarian notion has problems. In reacting with carbonate below the soil, the acid quickly becomes neutralized and cannot continue to dissolve the carbonate. The acid is usually neutralized within 10 m (35 ft) of the surface3—some even say within 1 m.4 But some caves have formed more than 1,000 m below the surface. If carbonic acid were the only mechanism for cave formation, how did such a weak acid descend so far into the earth without being neutralized? Secular scientists have tried, without much success, to devise some creative mechanisms to surmount this obstacle.
Sulfuric acid excavates caves quickly
This has changed, following recent discoveries in caves of the chemical products of reactions involving sulfuric acid. This is a much stronger acid that can dissolve carbonate very rapidly. Secular scientists are finding more and more caves with these reaction products, e.g., gypsum (calcium sulfate). Some suggest over 50% of caves were formed by sulfuric acid.5 It is increasingly probable that all caves were dissolved this way. Where the reaction products are missing, they were likely washed out at some time in the past.
Rapid cave excavation during Flood runoff
This finding suggests the strong possibility that caves were formed rapidly during Flood runoff.6 During this time, mountains and continents rose, and valleys and ocean basins sank (Psalm 104:6–9).7 Uplifting continents would cause rock layers to expand and crack. Water draining through cracks and weak contacts between layers would pick up the decaying products of organisms buried in the Flood—organic decay produces chemically aggressive gases and liquids. The rocks confirm that volcanic activity was prominent during the Flood, and the sulfur dioxide released from this also forms sulfuric acid. The acid would rapidly enlarge these cracks and surfaces between contacts. Thus, by the end of the Flood, cave cavities would be common in carbonate rocks (fig. 5).
Speleothems form quickly in Ice Age
Stalactites, stalagmites, and other speleothems would have formed rapidly during the Ice Age after the Flood.8 The post-Flood Ice Age was a unique period of Earth’s history, with mild (warmer) winters, cool summers, and heavy precipitation for about 500 years, until the ice sheets were at their greatest extent.9 Six main variables affect the formation of speleothems:
Cave temperature. The warmer the temperature, the faster speleothems grow. Immediately after the Flood, the rock would still be warm because of Flood burial. The deeper rock is buried, the hotter it becomes. Massive Flood erosion10 would expose hot carbonate rock, greatly aiding speleothem growth. The rock would remain warm for many years, aided by warmer winters.
Removal of CO2 from cave air. As the limestone from cave water forms speleothems, carbon dioxide (CO2) is given off. Too much CO2 in the air surrounding speleothems slows their growth. So, the more the CO2 is released from inside the cave into the outside air, the faster speleothems grow. The warmth of the rocks will hasten the rate at which the air containing CO2 moves out of the cave.
Evaporation of water off the speleothems. The drier the cave air, the more the evaporation, and the faster the speleothem growth. Secular scientists normally neglect this variable because the relative humidity in caves today is almost always near 100%, resulting in little evaporation of the cave water from the speleothem. In the past, however, the hot rocks warming the caves would increase the drying of cave air.
Drip rate from the ceiling. When precipitation (rainfall) is greater, this rate will be higher, causing faster speleothem growth. High precipitation is known to have been a major feature of the early to mid-Ice Age.
The thickness of the water film on the speleothems. High precipitation on the ground above will also result in a thicker film, and thus faster growth.
Calcium and carbonic acid levels in the drip water from the cave ceiling. When these are high, speleothems grow quickly. Acid levels are high when more CO2 is absorbed in the soil water above the cave, more organic matter is in the soil, more precipitation is on the ground surface, and the soil above is thicker and warmer. The thicker post-Flood soil would have had huge amounts of organic material left over from the Flood and would have also been warmer due to the factors already mentioned.
The net result
All six variables would have been enhanced during the early and middle parts of the Ice Age, that is for 500 years after the Flood. Speleothem growth rate could easily have been 100 times present-day growth rates, which are generally quite variable, depending upon several other factors too. Growth rate today can vary from near zero to as much as 5 mm (0.2 in)/yr.11 Some unusually fast growth rates have been reported.12,13 Cave experts Hill and Forti generally give current growth rates as 1–2 mm/yr.14
Assuming only 1 mm/yr, 100 times this would be 10 cm (3.9 in)/yr. Such a rate, if it continued for 500 years, would result in a phenomenal growth of 50 m (165 ft), more than adequate to explain the growth of speleothems during the Ice Age. And if people had understood this, they wouldn’t have been so amazed by speleothem-like structures in modern man-made cellars or mines.15
The global Flood and the Ice Age caused by the Flood explain caves and speleothems better than the slow-and-gradual uniformitarian models that dominate current geological thinking. Many processes that are very slow today were greatly sped up during the Flood and Ice Age. The Bible’s record of history can be relied on to help us understand how our world was formed. The rapid processes in Noah’s Flood crush time challenges to the Bible; the Flood is the great time-cruncher.
The example of Carlsbad Caverns
Carlsbad Caverns is one of many caves in the Guadalupe Mountains of New Mexico, USA. These caverns display thick speleothems, and have a thick layer of reaction products from sulfuric acid. A planation surface, a Flood-formed feature, provides evidence that the cave cavities were formed in the mountains that were later cut by deep canyons.16 This fits with the Recessional Stage of the Flood,17 since planation surfaces sometimes cut through caves.
Furthermore, the present-day climate in New Mexico is too dry to form speleothems. Very little water drips down from the ceilings, though the dry air in the caverns means that evaporation of the small amount of water produces slow growth on a few speleothems. But considering the size of the formations in caves from the Guadalupe Mountains, they needed to have formed in a very wet climate, as expected during the early Ice Age immediately after the Flood.
References and notes
- Hill, C. and Forti, P., Cave Minerals of the World, second edition, National Speleological Society, Huntsville, AL, p. 285, 1997. Return to text.
- Strahler, A.N., Science and Earth History —The Evolution/Creation Controversy, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY, p. 280, 1987. Return to text.
- Silvestru, E., Caves for all seasons, Creation 25(3):44–49, 2003; creation.com/caves-seasons. Return to text.
- Szymczak P. and Ladd, A.J.C., The initial states of cave formation: beyond the one-dimensional paradigm, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 301:424–432, 2011. Return to text.
- Klimchouk, A., Types and settings of hypogene karst; in: Klimchouk, A., Palmer, A.N., Waele, J.D., Auler, A.S., and Audra, P. (Eds.), Hypogene Karst cegions and Caves of the World, Springer, AG, p. 32, 2017. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Rapid growth of caves and speleothems: part 1—the excavation of the cave, J. Creation 34(1):71–78, 2020; creation.com/speleothems-1. Return to text.
- Barrick, W. Oard, M.J., and Price, P., Psalm 104:6–9 likely refers to Noah’s Flood, J. Creation 34(1):102–109, 2020; creation.com/psalm104-6-9. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Rapid growth of caves and speleothems: part 2—growth rate variables, J. Creation 34(2):90–97, 2020; creation.com/speleothems-2. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., The Great Ice Age: Evidence from the Flood for Its Quick Formation and Melting, Awesome Science Media, Richfield, WA, 2013; creation.com/s/30-9-637. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Tremendous erosion of continents during the Recessive Stage of the Flood, J. Creation 31(3):74–81, 2017; creation.com/tremendous-erosion-flood. Return to text.
- Dreybrodt, W., Processes in Karst Systems: Physics, Chemistry, and Geology, Springer-Verlag, New York, NY, 1988. Return to text.
- Lewis, D., Rapid stalactite growth in Siberia, Creation 32(1):40–42, 2010; creation.com/stalactite. Return to text.
- Shaw, T.R., History of Cave Science: The Exploration and Study of Limestone Caves, to 1900, second edition, Sydney Speleological Society, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, p. 220, 1992. Return to text.
- Hill and Forti, Ref. 1, p. 287. Return to text.
- Cox, G., Defying deep-time dogma: Stunning stalactites in a pub cellar, Creation 42(4):12–14, 2020; creation.com/stalactites-cellar. Return to text.
- Bretz, J.H., Carlsbad Caverns and other caves of the Guadalupe block, New Mexico, J. Geology 57(5):447–463, 1949. Return to text.
- See overview of Tas Walker’s biblical geological model, creation.com/biblical-geology-model; details at biblicalgeology.net. Return to text.
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