Clarifying the magmatic model for the origin of salt deposits

Answering criticisms


Editorial explanation: The origin of the vast salt deposits of the world has traditionally been explained by evaporation of enormous volumes of seawater over millions of years. In 2009, Stef Heerema published an alternate model whereby the salt deposits are of a magmatic origin,1 a model that fits the evidence, and has implications for the speed of their emplacement as well as other features of the deposits. More recently Stef Heerema made available a video presentation2 of a lecture he gave on the magmatic model. Kevin Nelstead has posted a critique of Heerema’s magmatic model on his blogsite.3 Stef Heerema here responds to that critique.

Wikimedia commons/Clem23Ol-Doinyo-Lengai-volcano
Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano, Northern Tanzania

I am thankful that Kevin Nelstead has responded to my ideas about the origin of salt deposits. We both believe that God is the Creator of everything, we are brothers in Christ, and I assume that we both believe that His Word is reliable. I once was prepared to become an old earth creationist myself, so I understand Kevin’s position.

When I entered a salt mine in Germany in 2007, I was ready to accept the ideas of an old earth because it appeared to me that to precipitate such an amount of salt out of seawater would have taken millions of years. With so many respectful scientists believing in the evaporation model I had no choice, I thought. But when I entered the salt mine my view changed dramatically, as there was no evidence to support the belief of those scientists. There was an abundant amount of salt without the slightest sign of any sea-related attributes.

It is most important to understand that my starting point was not the biblical Flood. My investigation started with the evidence and to my own surprise I ended with the world wide Flood. So, that is slightly different from how Kevin puts it in his response, where he accuses me of being driven by the perceived necessity to fit everything into a biblical timescale. In the following I will go through Kevin’s statements, answer his objections, and clarify my position.

  1. Kevin states that there is no biblical timescale

The Bible reveals clearly the time to nearly everything within the history that has been described in it. In the very beginning it describes Creation day by day. Further, the global Flood is detailed in days and months. To enlarge the biblical timescale to billions of years does not show a belief in the reliability of the Word of God and is a form of liberalism.

  1. Kevin states that 67 km of seawater was required to form 1 km of salt

To evaporate such a vast amount of water in a basin would take lots of time and lots of evaporation cycles. I mentioned 60 km, and Kevin’s 67 km of evaporated seawater is even more unlikely.

  1. Kevin states that there have not been sandy barriers between oceans and basins

The concept of a sandy barrier has been a standard feature of the evaporation model for the origin of salt deposits. Now Kevin exchanges the idea of sandy barriers for coral reefs, but nowhere on earth is there such an analogy. Although there are many coral reefs enclosing basins in hot and dry climates they do not form salt stocks.

  1. Kevin states that marine organisms do not thrive in hypersaline environments

He overlooks that this evaporation process requires a vast amount of seawater, which will abundantly deliver fish, jelly-fish, shell, water birds, sea mammals, alga, sand and clay into the basin. Therefore it is impossible to deposit hundreds of meters of pure sodium chloride in such a basin. But this is what we find in salt formations.

The proposed coral reef will not survive a hypersaline environment either, which makes the evaporation process even more inconsistent.

  1. Kevin states that pollen have been found in salt formations

Firstly, that still does not confirm a marine origin for salt formations. Secondly, salt formations can be contaminated by pollen after their primary igneous deposition. Salt formations have been subject to erosion for thousands of years. Water has been rushing in delivering pollen and rushing out taking away a lot of salt.

It is interesting that the idea of evaporates came as a simple deduction by geologists considering the evaporation process in the Caspian Sea. There, the deposition of salt by evaporation was witnessed by Ochsenius (1877).4 Since then most salt formations worldwide have been deemed to be evaporites. Are they really? No, as the process in the Caspian Sea is secondary, receiving its salt from the erosion of primary igneous salt formations high up in the surrounding mountains.

It is interesting that the Flood sediments are overloaded with fossils in strong contrast with the salt which does not contain fossils.
  1. Kevin states that there is abundant laboratory data that salt can flow on the surface in solid state

I look forward to seeing this data. As far as I am informed there is none. Even if this is so, why would it matter for the magmatic model for the origin of salt deposits? I don’t see the significance.

  1. Kevin states that there is no evidence that something like a salt magma has ever existed in the earth

He is not well informed then. The salts Carbonatite and Anhydrite5 both are derived from magmas. Note that it is only since 1982 the primary igneous origin of Anhydrite has been noticed by scientists.

  1. Kevin states that there is a restricted connection from the sea into the Dead Sea and Danakil Depression

No, there has never been any connection. Therefore these formations can only be from a primary igneous origin. Maybe if the Great Rift continues to open a connection will come into being.

  1. Kevin states that the Ol Doinyo Lengay volcano is not a modern analogy

Firstly, it shows the low viscosity which is typical for a salt magma. Secondly, carbonatite is largely part of salt depositions worldwide. Thirdly, as the lava is so rich in salt minerals the volcano is an excellent modern analogy. On the other hand, there are no modern analogies available for the origin of salt deposits by primary evaporation.

  1. Kevin states that there is no association between the occurrence of salt deposits and coal

The coal seams that have been mined in the south of the Netherlands continue underlying the 500,000 square kilometres wide Zechstein formation. Kevin might be right that the association between salt and coal is not worldwide confirmed. But that does not refute the magmatic origin of salt.

  1. Kevin states that most large salt deposits are associated with shallow marine sedimentary rocks

That shows that there was an interaction between the salt lava and the sediments that were being quickly deposited by the Flood. It is interesting that the Flood sediments are overloaded with fossils in strong contrast with the salt which does not contain fossils. This contrast underlines that the salt and the sediments are derived from different sources.

  1. Kevin would expect hydrothermal alteration of the rocks where the magma was passing through

He is right. I expect that such alteration of the surrounding rocks would be present and suspect it has not been observed because people have not been looking for it. Gas and oil companies do most of their exploration in the deep layers underneath the salt and so they have not looked for hydrothermal alteration of the surrounding rocks. There is an interesting copper bearing ‘Kupferschiefer layer’ which underlies the Zechstein salt, the origin of which is not yet understood. This layer might be the result of such a hydrothermal alteration. I am not the first that came to the conclusion that salt is from a magmatic origin. James Hutton had reason to note it and others expected the salt deposits to have been formed from hydrothermal water driven by magma.6 I addressed that in the video2 in the fourth minute.

  1. Kevin states that it is not demonstrated that an NaCl lava flow could spread out underwater over many tens of thousands of square kilometres

I wonder what he expects a lava volume of a half million cubic kilometres would do, other than cover the bottom of a basin. Liquid salt runs like water and will fill up the basin indeed.

  1. Kevin states that no evidence for feeder dikes was provided

The conduits through which the supposed salt magma erupted underneath the Gulf of Mexico were showed in the 21st minute of the video.2

  1. Kevin states that fluid inclusion studies indicate that evaporites formed from seawater
TNO—Geological Survey of the Netherlands7946-3d-deposits
3D seismic interpretation of sub-surface salt formations in north-east Netherlands. Underground ‘mountains’ of massive salt rise up as much as 3.5 km.

Young and Stearley7 do reference an investigation into paleobrine temperatures.8 The starting point in this research was that salt is a precipitate out of seawater in a paleo-environment. If there was no seawater nor paleoclimate involved then this investigation cannot be used to indicate an ancient temperature. This kind of research to the origin of salt formation reads to me like fairy tales.

Magma can account for fluid inclusions as well, as magmas always contain some water. After cooling, the water in the salt lava can form oversaturated fluid inclusions. The chemistry of the oversaturated fluid depends only on the present temperature, pressure and surrounding salts.

Fluid inclusions have been found in samples out of the F-unit, which is the uppermost level of the formation. A possibility is that this layer has been contaminated by ground water. When a mine is opened then the overpressured9 ground water, surrounding the formation, will find a way towards the atmospheric pressure inside the mineshaft. The Asse mine in Germany, which was in use as a nuclear waste storage, is a well known example of such a water invasion.

  1. Kevin states that in some salt deposits, anhydrite and gypsum dominate over halite

Correct. If salt formations were formed out of seawater why do they all have different compositions? This shows clearly their primary igneous origin; every volcano will leave its own signature in the lava. In the tenth minute of this video2 I explain how the composition of the magma will influence the solidification process.

If salt formations were formed out of seawater why do they all have different compositions? This shows clearly their primary igneous origin; every volcano will leave its own signature in the lava.
  1. Kevin states that the peer-review process of the Journal of Creation fails

His accusation goes far wider than the Journal of Creation. What are we to say about all the incorrect papers concerning sandy barriers enclosing basins that have been published? And what about the many incorrect hydrothermal approaches that have been published in different journals? No, this paper didn’t slip through failing peer reviews. As long as science doesn’t give satisfying answers to the origin of salt deposits there has to be room for new approaches. The last thing we need is censorship by the establishment.

  1. Kevin states that magnesium chloride does occur in its hydrated form bischofite (MgCl2•6H2O)

In the sequence proposed by mainstream geologists bischofite would be the last salt to precipitate after full evaporation of all the water in the basin. The next salt layer can only be delivered by opening the barrier again to repeat the precipitation sequence. But then the story becomes complicated, as the magnesium chloride will immediately dissolve in the new water. But no, the magnesium chloride is assumed to be first covered by clay as if by a miracle. It is clear that magnesium chloride cannot be precipitated in this way as it is very hydrophilic and highly soluble. It is much more likely that magnesium chloride would be derived from magma. The water component does not contradict this view as water can be absorbed after deposition. And decomposition in hydrochloric acid and magnesium oxide might have been prevented by the pressure of about one kilobar, which would have been applied by the waters of the Flood.

  1. Kevin states that final crystallization in the eutectic point would produce an interlocking mesh of halite and anhydrite. He refers to the tenth minute of this video.2

These salts do not form mixed crystals as calcium sulphate differs a lot from sodium chloride. That means that pure calcium sulphate and pure sodium chloride crystals will be formed and be ordered by their density in interaction with the lava.

  1. Kevin states that upturned sedimentary layers next to salt domes show every indication of having been deposited horizontally, and then punctured by rising masses of solid but moldable salt. These layers show the typical signs of strain associated with deformation, including folding, fracturing and faulting.

That is what geologists want to see, but it is no more than their interpretation. A salt pillar can underlie an area of several tens of square kilometres. A salt pillar has a flat top, is not a needle, and cannot puncture through upper layers. If Permian salt buried under Triassic layers was forced to rise slowly, then the Triassic layers would have been found on top of the pillar, but they are not. The system fails as clearly shown in the video2 from the 13th minute.


Kevin Nelstead’s criticisms of the magmatic model for the origin of salt deposits have been clearly and simply refuted. The magmatic model fits the evidence well, far better than the evaporation model, which has many insurmountable problems. The magmatic model explains the characteristics of the salt deposits of the world and accounts for their formation during the global Flood catastrophe.

Update 10 May 2018: Image of Ol Doinyo Lengai volcano added and text at Item 9 modified.

Published: 19 November 2013

References and notes

  1. Heerema, S.J., A magmatic model for the origin of large salt formations, Journal of Creation, 23(3):116–118, 2009. Return to text.
  2. Primary Igneous Origin of Salt Formations, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfN0MIOnRNQ, 14 March 2013. Return to text.
  3. Nelstead, K., A young-earth creationist magmatic model for the origin of evaporates, geochristian.wordpress.com, 26 March 2013. Return to text.
  4. Ochsenius, Carl, Die Bildung der Steinsalzlager und ihrer Mutterlaugensalze, 1877. Return to text.
  5. Luhr, J.F., Primary igneous anhydrite: Progress since its recognition in the 1982 El Chichón trachyandesite, Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 175(4):394–407, 2008. Return to text.
  6. Rode, K.P., On the submarine volcanic origin of Rock-Salt deposits, Proceedings of the Indian Academy of Sciences—Section B 20(4):130–142, 1944. Return to text.
  7. Young, D.A and Stearley, R., The Bible, Rocks and Time: Geological Evidence for the Age of the Earth, IVP Academic, pp. 303–304, 2008. Return to text.
  8. Satterfield, C.L., Lowenstein, T.K., Vreeland, R.H. and Rosenzweig, W.D., Paleobrine Temperatures, Chemistries and Paleoenvironments of Silurian Salina Formation F-1 Salt, Michigan Basin, U.S.A., from Petrography and Fluid Inclusions in Halite, Journal of Sedimentary Research 75:534–546, 2005. Return to text.
  9. The F-1 Salt is exposed in mine outcrops at a depth of 347 meters below land surface. Ground water pressure at that level is about 34 bar. See Page 535 of ref. 8. Return to text.