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The Eye of the Sahara

Mystery circles visible from space reveal catastrophe of biblical proportions

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Published: 12 November 2020 (GMT+10)
fig-1
Figure 1. The Eye of the Sahara, aka the Richat structure, from space. It is some 40 km in diameter and sits on a plateau 350 metres above sea level, 500 km from the Atlantic Ocean. NASA Earth Observatory.1

In the western Sahara Desert in Mauritania sits a stunning circular structure called Eye of the Sahara (figure 1).1,2 Also known as Guelb er Richât and the Richat structure, it exposes layers of sedimentary rock in concentric rings. It is about 40 km (25 miles) across, visible from space, and surrounded by desert sand (figure 2). Several different types of igneous rock (i.e. formed from the solidification of molten rock) are also exposed inside the circular structure.3 This feature speaks of continental scale catastrophe and tremendous erosion.

When it was first discovered, the Richat Structure was thought to be a meteorite impact. However, extensive field and laboratory studies in the 1960s found no evidence for high-velocity impact from space, such as shock metamorphism.

Fig_2-Richat-google-Earth-270x150km
Figure 2. The Eye of the Sahara in the western Sahara Desert is surrounded by sand. Image width is 270 km. (© Google 2020)

Now, rather than an impact from above, the structure is regarded as a huge volcanic intrusion coming from below. Magma (molten rock) pushed up into the overlying thick layers of sedimentary rock that covered the African continent at that time. This lifted and fractured the sedimentary layers and formed a volcanic dome, called a caldera. These volcanic craters form when the eruption empties the magma chamber under the volcano and the volcano collapses into itself. Something remarkable was happening to trigger this enormous volcano.

After the caldera formed, some of the top layers of the sediment were eroded off. This left the circular section of the dome visible on the surface. The different layers of sediment were of different hardness and formed circular ridges and valleys.

In 2014, geologists Guillaume Matton and Michel Jébrak from the University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada, reported data they had gathered from three visits to the Richat structure.4 They also described a scenario for how the structure formed. From their proposal we can see how their findings are nicely explained by the processes that occurred during Noah’s Flood.

The beginning of the formation

 Fig_3-Richat-sequence-2
Figure 3. Hypothetical sequence for forming the Richat structure. The geological section runs from the south-west to north-east. Width of section is some 50 km. The vertical scale is exaggerated 35 times. See text for discussion. From ref. 4 (A) First stage. Initial magma emplacement and uplift of caldera roof. (B) Second stage. Magma emplacement continues. (C) Third stage. Magma emplacement completed. Caldera roof collapsed. (D) Fourth and final stage. From emplacement to the present. 100 metres of surface erosion.

Figure 3A shows Matton and Jébrak’s first stage of the formation of the Richat structure.5 It is a geological section from the south-west to the north-east extending some 50 km across the structure. Note how the vertical scale changes: 0 to 200 m at the top and 3km at the bottom. Keep in mind that this diagram is an interpretation of the below-ground geological structure (based on what has been observed on the surface). Also, it is at a time in the past, so it was not observed and involves speculation.

Note that layers of sediment extend across the top of the figure. These consist of quartz sandstone, limestone, and other sediments (such as siltstone and mudstone). The legend for the diagram is at the bottom of the figure. Note that the layers are constant in thickness across the figure, indicating that the layers extend far beyond the edge of the figure.

These layers are part of a large sedimentary deposit in what has been called the Taoudenni Basin (figure 4), which extends some 600 km from west to east, and 2500 km north–south. The ages assigned to these uppermost sediments of this basin are Late Ordovician (450 million evolutionary ‘years’) to Carboniferous (300 million evolutionary ‘years’).6 By locating these sediments on the geology transformation tool (figure 5), we can see that the sediments were deposited as the waters of Noah’s Flood were rising. There was still some time before the waters of the Flood would peak at around the Cretaceous.

Sediments that extend over a large geographical extent like this are a characteristic of deposition as the floodwaters were rising. The reason for the huge geographical area is that the Flood involved catastrophic processes of high energy and of continental scale. (See Sedimentary blankets: visual evidence for vast continental flooding.)

Note that in figure 3A the mafic magma (black and rich in iron and magnesium) is just beginning to push up from below and has fractured the layers of sediment in several places. The magma is also squeezing up through a few vertical cracks, erupting above the ground, throwing ash and dust into the air, and depositing lava on the surface. The diagram indicates that the force of the magma has pushed up the rocks across the crater (i.e. a ‘lid’ 40 km across and 400 m thick) some 100 metres.

Timing of the intrusion and its cause

 fig-4
Figure 4. The Richat structure formed in sediments deposited in the Taoudenni Basin, which extends some 600 km from west to east, and 2,500 km north–south.

Matton and Jébrak say this volcanic intrusion began shortly before 100 million evolutionary ‘years’ ago.7 We recall that this is when the global super-continent Pangea started to break up, and the continents began to move toward their present locations. From the geology transformation tool (figure 5) we see that 100 million years is around the middle of the Cretaceous. Further, this is around the time when the waters of Noah’s Flood were reaching their peak and about to begin receding from the earth. Previously, I have tied this break-up of Pangea to the opening of the ocean basins allowing them to receive the waters of Noah’s Flood (See: Recessive Stage of Flood began in the mid-Cretaceous and eroded kilometres of sediment from continent and Geologists see effects of Noah’s Flood in Africa).

Connecting the timing of this intrusion to the sinking of the ocean basins and the break-up of Pangea helps identify the cause of the intrusion. Such significant movement of the earth’s crust on a global scale over a month or two would melt rock and produce magma. Down-drop of the oceans and uplift of the continents would stress the edges of the continents, fracturing the crust and squeezing molten magma up through fractures in the continental crust.

Matton and Jébrak identify the source of the initial mafic magma as the sub-continental lithospheric mantle (i.e. the earth’s mantle just beneath the continental crust).8 This is deep under the continent, and is evidence that the lowering of the ocean basins and the uplift of the continents during Noah’s Flood involved rapid, large-scale crustal movements that impacted deep into the earth. This is evidence supporting the global, catastrophic nature of Noah’s Flood.

Emplacement of the rest of the intrusion

 Fig_5-Geology-transformation
Figure 5. Geological transformation tool. The left side of the figure shows the geologic column with its labelled subdivisions. The evolutionary times assigned are shown in the middle. To the right of the figure coloured arrows provide a reinterpretation into a biblical geologic history. For more information see The geology transformation tool.

Matton and Jébrak’s second and third stage diagrams (figures 3B and C) show how they envisage the structure continued to form.5 First, the composition of the magma at the bottom changed from basaltic (black, rich in iron and magnesium) to rhyolitic (pale, rich in silica and aluminum). This indicates the magma source changed from the mantle to the crust. (Likely the heat of the basaltic magma melted the crustal rocks as it rose through the crust). Second, a small pile of breccia formed at the top. Third, volcanic eruptions continued but eventually stopped. Fourth, the huge ‘lid’ of the crater (40 km across and 400 m thick) dropped down, different pieces dropping by different amounts.

In geological terms, Matton and Jébrak envisage these processes happened relatively quickly. They say it began “shortly before 100 Ma” and finished “shortly after.”7 In real time during Noah’s Flood this would have only taken days or weeks.

The diagrams (figures 3B, C, and D) also show volcanic eruptions composed of carbonatite (C) and kimberlite (K). Carbonatite igneous rock consists of over 50% carbonate (limestone) minerals, in contrast to basalt and rhyolite. However, of more relevance to geological catastrophe is the Kimberlite magma (K), because this rock formed deep within the mantle at depths between 150 and 450 kilometres. It erupts rapidly and violently. Such rapid and violent eruption from such depth within the earth indicates the enormous scale of the catastrophe that formed the Richat structure, which is consistent with the biblical Flood.

After the eruption

In figure 3D Matton and Jébrak show what they envisage happened from the time the eruption finished until the present day.5 The only thing they changed from figure 3C is to remove about 100 metres of sediment from the surface, which they assume was removed by normal erosion, i.e. by slow-and-gradual weathering. The softer sediments eroded more than the hard sediments. Consequently, the hard sediments are now more prominent, forming the circular quartzite ridges.

Just 100 metres of erosion from the surface seems far too little. The top sediments are said to be Carboniferous (300 million evolutionary ‘years’) but the intrusion did not occur until the mid-Cretaceous (100 million evolutionary ‘years’). That is 200 million years of sedimentation. In the evolutionary view that would have added kilometres of sediment onto the continent before the intrusion. From the catastrophic biblical perspective the amount of deposition would be the same. However, that thickness of sediment is not shown on the first three diagrams (figures 3A, B, and C). It would have been there, and the material would have been eroded away during the Recessive stage of the Flood.

On this issue, geologists McCarthy and Rubidge describe sedimentation in Southern Africa during the break-up of Gondwana (the southern portion of Pangea). They say:

“Unlike the Karoo—where sedimentation occurred for nearly 120 million years, much of it on land, producing a complete record of terrestrial life during the Permian, Triassic and early Jurassic Periods—the later Jurassic and Cretaceous Periods during which the break-up of Gondwana occurred are poorly documented in the rocks of South Africa. During this time it seems that southern Africa was elevated and the interior was experiencing erosion. Sedimentation deposition was taking place mainly in the developing Indian and Atlantic oceans, now all off-shore areas.”9

Although the Richat structure is not in Southern Africa, we would expect that a similar depth of sediment would have been deposited over the area and subsequently eroded away. That is also what other continents have experienced. We would expect north-west Africa to have the same experience.

Perspective interpretation

Fig_6-Perspective_diagram
Figure 6. A perspective west-east view of the Richat complex (looking north) showing the possible shape of the magmatic chamber. The width of the section is 60 km. The vertical exaggeration is about 35 times. From ref. 4

Figure 6 shows Matton and Jébrak’s interpretation of the Richat complex indicating the possible size and shape of the magma chamber.7 The width of the section is 60 km and runs from west (left side) to east (right side). The vertical exaggeration is 35 times. The sedimentary strata, which run across the figure above the magma chamber, maintain an even thickness, indicating that they extend much further than shown on the figure. (The geographical extent of the sedimentary Taoudenni Basin is shown in figure 4). Notice that the strata to the east (right side) of the figure dip down slightly to the east. The strata to the west (left side) dip down to the west. (The vertical exaggeration of the figure makes these dips look much more than they are in real life.) The hinge point is aligned north–south (out of the figure) and runs through the magma chamber. This bending of the strata is consistent with the Atlantic Ocean to the east sinking and the African continent lifting about mid-way through Noah’s Flood. The stress this tectonic movement placed on the edge of the African continent generated the magma below the crust and thrust it up through the crust, forming the volcanic intrusion that is now the Eye of the Sahara.

Summary and conclusions

The Eye of the Sahara is the surface expression of a subsurface volcanic intrusion that created a volcanic crater—a caldera. The intrusion pushed into sedimentary rocks that were deposited as the waters of Noah’s Flood were rising, some 4,500 years ago. The intrusion occurred just before the waters reached their peak and began to recede off the African continent into the ocean.

The intrusion was caused by stresses produced in the earth’s crust as the continent began to uplift and the ocean basins began to down-drop. These crustal movements were of such magnitude that they impacted deep into the earth producing magma and pushing it up through the crust. After emplacement, the sediments above the Richat structure were eroded by the waters of Noah’s Flood. The waters did this while they covered the continent and then as they flowed into the ocean. It is likely that kilometres of thickness of sediment covered the area when the eruption occurred, much more than what covers the area at present.

The Eye of the Sahara is a testament to the catastrophic events and processes of Noah’s Flood, recorded in the Bible.

References and notes

  1. Geology Science, Eye of the Sahara or Richat Structure, 2020; geologyscience.com/gallery/eye-of-the-sahara-or-richat-structure, Return to text.
  2. Richat Structure (photographed December 17, 2011), NASA Earth Observatory, Image of the Day, April 29, 2018; earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/92071/richat-structure Return to text.
  3. This includes stunning pale rhyolites, a central pile of large, kilometre-sized angular chunks of rock (mega-breccia) altered by hot, underground fluids, and dark gabbro. Return to text.
  4. Matton, G. and Jébrak, M., The “eye of Africa” (Richat dome, Mauritania): An isolated Cretaceous alkaline–hydrothermal complex, Journal of African Earth Sciences 97: 109–124, 2014. Return to text.
  5. Matton and Jébrak, ref. 4, p.121. Return to text.
  6. Matton and Jébrak, ref. 4, p.110. Return to text.
  7. Matton and Jébrak, ref. 4, p.122. Return to text.
  8. Matton and Jébrak, ref. 4, p.123. Return to text.
  9. McCarthy, T. and Rubidge, B., The Story of Earth and Life: A Southern African Perspective, Struik Nature, Cape Town, p. 249, 2005. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

How Noah's Flood Shaped Our Earth
by Michael J Oard, John K Reed
US $17.00
Soft Cover
Exploring Geology with Mr Hibb
by Michael Oard, Tara Wolfe, Chris Turbuck
US $10.00
Kindle (.mobi)

Readers’ comments

Matthew M.
I saw this recent comment by “Love Nature” on the Richat Structure on Google Maps:
"I have something amazing for you. In Borneo I also found a shape and size that is almost the same as the eye of sahara. The eye of sahara is covered by desert but in Borneo it is covered by wilderness or unspoiled rainforest."
I found the referenced location to be here, Borneo 1°14'00"S 115°50'26"E · 249 m.
It looks to be about 18km across at its widest axis.
There’s a definite resemblance, although being covered in forest makes it more challenging to spot.
I thought others may be interested.
Gene W.
The “mystery circles” are similar to features in Washington State - 47°25'21.04"N 118°40'58.04"W. These are known as the Odessa ring dike craters. One article says there are over 200 similar structures in the area. However, there are also many potholes in the area that are considered to have formed during the ice age floods. For creationists, this suggests the Columbia River basalt and lava was still hot during the ice age floods.
These craters only appear in the Rosa basalt of the Columbia River basalt group. The Rosa basalt lies beneath Priest Rapids member of the Columbia River basalt. The Priest Rapids basalt was stripped away by the ice age floods. For creationists, this raises some interesting questions. A simple way for creationists to explain these is that the basalt was still hot during the ice age floods. But that is a catastrophic change for creationists to consider.
There is evidence that suggests the ice age was a catastrophic event in the days of Peleg:
- Creationists Stuart Nevins (a pen name for Steve Austin) and Paul Garner both believe the Columbia River lava flows happened after the global Flood.
- The Cascade Mountains uplifted some of the Columbia River basalt to over 6,000 feet (1828 meters) in elevation at Darland Mountain and Mission Peak.
- For creationists, the ice age did not begin until the Columbia River lava flows and the uplift of the Cascade Mountains.
- James Johnson and John Morris propose that the earth may have been “riverized” in the days of Peleg.
There are dozens of other features that suggest the ice age was a catastrophic mass extinction event when the earth was “riverized” in the days of Peleg.
Tas Walker
Thank you for the information about the Odessa ring dike craters and their relationship with the Columbia River Basalt large igneous province. I was able to look at them on Google maps. This detailed article "Field studies in the Columbia River basalt, Northwest USA" by Woodmorappe and Oard concludes that the basalts were emplaced in the late Abative phase of Noah's Flood, and that the deep canyons through the basalt were cut in the Dispersive phase. It also notes that the basalts were not completely solidified when the canyons were cut as basalt flowed from CRB units into the canyon, something you also mention.
The uplift of the Cascade Mountains you mention is suggestive of the major uplift of the North American continent beginning in the second half of Noah's Flood, prompting the waters to flow from the continent into the ocean. Late in this Recessive stage, during the Dispersive phase of the Flood, the landscape would have been "riverized", a phenomena that happened all over the world.
Some creation geologists ascribe major geological activity to earth being "divided" in the days of Peleg (Genesis 10:25) but the timing for such major activity does not match the geology. The context of Genesis 10 and 11, where Peleg is mentioned in both, would indicate that this "division" was the linguistic and cultural division described for the Tower of Babel at the beginning of chapter 11.
Karen G.
Thank you for your article.

After the volcanic formations of this area and prior to the flood, some people have proposed that this site was once a city and could have even been the city of Atlantis. Yeah, I know - sounds like another Atlantis conspiracy theory! However, I found one compelling video by "Bright Insight" on Youtube that discusses all the evidence and compares them to descriptions given in ancient writings. Sounded very convincing, and his findings are provocative if nothing else. (I can provide the link if you want to pursue this and follow it up.)

I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Could this be possibly the remains of Atlantis destroyed by the flood of Noah's time?
Tas Walker
I have seen the claim that the Richat Structure is the remains of Atlantis, and have briefly checked that out a bit. Further, I found a video by Bright Insight which may be the one you mention and he outlines the idea. He also mentions the many aspects that are contrary to the the sketchy information we have about the description of Atlantis in ancient writings. He concludes by saying that the idea is just a theory without solid evidence.
So, I don't think the claim stacks up. There are too many contradictions. And it would not have been a pre-Flood city because the Richat structure sits on kilometres of sediment that was deposited by the Flood across large areas of Africa.
WR B.
Maybe it is a small impact crater, and their model for what to expect is wrong. They say it needs more melt rock and more disturbance of the sedimentary layers. If we assume the country rock was very hot 600+ degrees C, this small of a secondary impactor (probably a chunk of magma placed in orbit from an earlier larger cratering event) had less velocity and shallower impact, and lost more of its energy in the hot country rock. This would be exactly what my cratering model would expect with late Flood secondary impactors like the Meteor Crater of Arizona (Barringer crater) and the tiny Kamil crater of Egypt.
Bud B.
Thank you for your many valuable insights into how the earth was formed.
As I read this article about the Richat structure, a question arose in my mind. I have confidence that you can point me toward an answer:
National Geographic in an article about the work of Alfred Wegener, states that the continental drift that he posited regarding the break-up of Pangea continues to this day at the rate of about 2.5 cm per year. This theory, of course, flies in the face of a catastrophic breakup of the earth surface.
I often get into discussions with people about a literal reading of Genesis and so would appreciate having an answer to this argument in favour of “millions of years”. i.e. why would the relatively slow rate of 2.5 cm per year persist if the original breakup took only a year?
Tas Walker
The present rate is interpreted as a residual movement of the plates that has continued to the present day from the catastrophic period during the Flood. The plates have almost come to a standstill, but not quite. This is discussed in Chapter 11 of the Creation Answers Book (pp. 165 - 166). Further, there are lots of articles on this topic that you can find by putting 'plate tectonics' in the search box on the website.

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