Creation 35(4):46–49, October 2013
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Are the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets old?
We are constantly bombarded with processes and events claimed to take millions of years. Most of us have heard that it takes coal and oil millions of years to form. The ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica are also said to be millions of years old. The Greenland Ice Sheet supposedly has been the same size for several millions of years, while the Antarctic Ice Sheet allegedly started growing over 30 million years ago to reach its present size 15 million years ago.
Since the 1960s, scientists have drilled deep into the ice sheets. After the ice is brought up in hollow corers, the scientists measure numerous variables in the ice. From these they have developed a time scale down the core for a little over 100,000 years on the Greenland Ice Sheet and close to a million years on the Antarctic Ice Sheet. It should be noted that they did not actually measure these ages, but inferred them based on their beliefs about the past, as we will see. All the same, in their thinking, these chronologies are considered some of the most accurate.
Some of these variables near the top of the Greenland Ice Sheet record annual layers. So, the accuracy of the dating is said to be in years. From the annual layers, scientists have even claimed that they can count 110,000 annual layers 90% of the way down to the bottom of the GISP21 ice core, like counting the rings in a tree to determine its age.
Ice cores are considered strong evidence against the biblical time scale of around 6,000 years. Some professing Christians have used ice cores as ‘ultimate proof’ that Noah’s Flood was not global.2
Is this all true? No, it is not!3 A little checking of the data and their interpretations reveals this. We need to apply
The Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets
Ice covers 10% of the land on Earth, mainly in the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets. The Greenland Ice Sheet has an average depth of 1,600 meters (5,300 feet) with a maximum depth of about 3,400 meters (11,300 feet). It covers an area of 1.8 million square kilometres (0.7 million square miles). The Antarctic Ice Sheet averages 1,900 metres (6,300 feet) deep with a maximum of about 4,200 metres (14,000 feet) over an area of 13.9 million square kilometres (5.4 million square miles).
The average precipitation on the Greenland Ice Sheet is 32 cm/yr (12.6 in/yr) while that on Antarctica is 18.6 cm/yr (7.3 in/yr). The southeast edge of Greenland gets much more than the average and it was here that explorers recovered Glacier Girl from deep in the ice (see box). Most of the precipitation on Antarctica is near the coast, while the high top of the ice sheet receives only around 5 cm/yr (2 in/yr) and is essentially a ‘polar desert’. Thus these annual layers are too thin to date by the annual layer method.
As snow accumulates on the top of the ice sheet and eventually turns to ice, the weight of each annual layer presses down more and more. Under pressure, ice deforms and ‘flows’ like plastic, so this accumulating weight pushes the ice out from the sides (see illustration below).
This causes the annual layer of snow and ice to become thinner the farther down within the ice sheet. The yearly accumulation of snow in our present climate is balanced by summer melting and ice streaming out into the oceans. All this affects our interpretations of older layers.
What about those annual layers in Greenland?
The old ages ‘seen’ in the Greenland and Antarctic ice cores depend upon the belief that the ice sheets are old to begin with. The problem is in the assumption of uniformitarianism within the paradigm of naturalism. Uniformitarianism is a dogma of the earth sciences believed since the time of the Enlightenment in the late 1700s. It is the belief that everything is the result of slow, gradual processes as we see today that extend over millions of years. The Enlightenment was a time of rebellion against the Bible in which reason was used to supposedly arrive at all truth. The modern culture has followed Enlightenment biases ever since their beginning.
Scientists believe the Greenland Ice Sheet has been generally the same size for millions of years. With this belief, they assume that the annual layers that are found near the top become thinner than a sheet of paper by the time the bottom of the ice sheet is reached. Annual layers are distinctive in about the top 500 m (1,640 feet) of the Greenland ice cores, then because of thinning, they assume the layers become more and more obscure the deeper down. This is where the old age assumption gives them the enormous number of years within their time scale.
For example, there are hundreds of back and forth wiggles in the variables down the core. They are caused not only by annual layers, but also by individual storms, and within-storm variability. By assuming the ice sheet is old, uniformitarian scientists believe layer thinning erases all but the annual layer. However, within the biblical timescale, the annual layers lower in the core, during the Ice Age, would be much thicker. Further, the storm and within-storm changes would not be erased. So uniformitarian scientists are counting storm and within-storm layers as annual layers, greatly inflating the ‘age’ of the ice sheet. At first, scientists counted only 85,000 years down the GISP2 core, but they got the ‘wrong’ date according to their assumptions. So, by increasing the resolution of one of their instruments, they went back and counted 25,000 more ‘annual layers’ in the bottom 500 m of the ice core.5 That is how they arrived at 110,000 years—the date they expected assuming old ages at the start. It is also interesting that the ice cores only show one ice age, just as expected within the biblical paradigm.6
The old ages of Antarctica based on circular reasoning
Scientists have claimed to date the long Antarctic ice cores to almost a million years. However, because there is so little precipitation today, which is assumed to be the same for the past by uniformitarian scientists, annual layers cannot be counted. To date the ice cores, scientists have simply matched wiggles in different isotopes of oxygen or hydrogen to wiggles in deep-sea sediment cores. And deep-sea cores have been simply matched to the astronomical theory of the ice age, a weak mechanism out of over 60 theories invented to try to explain the mystery of the ice age.4,6 This is essentially an exercise in circular reasoning.
On the other hand, volcanism and other processes during Noah’s Flood warmed the oceans of the Earth, causing increased evaporation and precipitation. So, the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets would have grown rapidly in the post-Flood period. At the present rate of precipitation, the Greenland Ice Sheet could form in just 5,000 years, while the Antarctic Ice Sheet would take only 10,215 years. But the ice sheets grew much faster in the post-Flood rapid Ice Age which lasted about 700 years. There was much heavier annual snowfall and much less summer melting. Thus the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets grew rapidly for hundreds of years after the Flood,6 eventually arriving at the general steady state observed today. This means that the amount of ice in those ice sheets is what would be expected for an age of only about 4,300 years—the time since the Flood.
So, while what you believe about the ice sheets, as well as the rest of the world, determines how you analyze and interpret scientific data, it is obvious that accepting the Bible’s history of the Earth is most likely to lead you to the truth. This applies not only to science, but to God’s interactions with mankind, and His plan and purpose for this world.
The retrieving of Glacier Girl from Southeast Greenland
Glacier Girl is the new name for one of six P-38 aircraft that was forced to land on the southeast Greenland Ice Sheet during World War II. All the men survived and were later rescued. The aircraft were subsequently buried by snow and ice over the years. Pat Epps, a wealthy entrepreneur, decided to retrieve the aircraft, but could not find them at first. After 11 years of searching, they found the aircraft buried under 79 m (260 feet) of ice and 1.6 km (1 mile) from their original location. This was a shock. However, they managed, after considerable effort, to bring one aircraft to the surface, but in pieces that were later reassembled. I happened to visit Middlesboro, southeast Kentucky, where they were finishing the restoration of Glacier Girl, and the director told me that the explorers thought the aircraft were buried under about 10 meters (33 feet) of snow and would be easy to recover.
The assumed depth of burial was likely based on the average precipitation in Greenland, but precipitation is actually over 70 cm/yr (28 in/yr) in southeast Greenland This makes sense since the area is at low altitude close to the ocean near the semi-permanent Icelandic Low. Such heavy precipitation gives us an idea of how fast snow and ice could accumulate on Greenland when the ice sheet was first developing during the Ice Age.
References and notes
- GISP2 stands for Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2. Return to text.
- Seely, P.H., The GISP2 core; ultimate proof that Noah’s Flood was not global, Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 55(4):252–260, 2003. Return to text.
- Vardiman, L., Ice Cores and the Age of the Earth, Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, 1993. See also Vardiman, L., Rapid changes in oxygen isotope contents of ice cores: caused by fractionation and trajectory dispersion near the edge of an ice shelf, Journal of Creation 11(1):52–60, 1997; Woodmorappe, J., Greenland ice cores: implicit evidence for catastrophic deposition, Journal of Creation 16(3):14–16, 2002. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., The Frozen Record: Examining the Ice Core History of the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets, Institute for Creation Research, Dallas, TX, 2005. See also Oard, M.J., A tale of two Greenland ice cores, Journal of Creation 9(2):135–136, 1995; Oard, M.J, Do Greenland ice cores show over one hundred thousand years of annual layers? Journal of Creation 15(3):39–42, 2001; Oard, M. J., Wild ice-core interpretations by uniformitarian scientists Journal of Creation 16(1):45–47, 2002; Oard, M.J., New ice core records 120,000 years?, 2003; Oard, M.J., Ice cores vs the Flood, Journal of Creation 18(2):58–61, 2004; Oard, M., Vardiman, L., Wieland, C., Cold comfort for long-agers, Journal of Creation 19(3):51–53, 2005. Return to text.
- Meese, D.A., Gow, A.J., Alley, R.B., Zielinski, G.A., Grootes, P.M., Ram, K., Taylor, K.C., Mayewski, P.A. and Bolzan, J.F., The Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 depth-age scale: Methods and results, Journal of Geophysical Research 102(C12):26,411–26,423, 1997. Return to text.
- Oard, M.J., Frozen in Time: Woolly Mammoths, the Ice Age, and the Biblical Key to Their Secrets, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2004. Return to text.
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