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Was there enough time for thick permafrost to form?

Published: 3 March 2018 (GMT+10)

Today’s feedback question comes from Philip H. of the United States who asks how thick permafrost could have developed within the biblical timeframe.

Hi, I’m curious how creationists explain the depth of permafrost in a few thousand years, which is up to 1,492 m (4,898 feet) deep in some places in Siberia. Wikipedia has a chart of how long it takes permafrost to form. According to this chart, it takes 775,000 years to reach a depth of 687.7 m (2,256 ft). I am a creationist, so you do not need to give me an exhaustive proof. I’m just wondering if this has been addressed, and if so, how. Thanks so much!
Digging in permafrost

CMI geomorphologist Dr Ron Neller responds.

Greetings Philip and thank you for your email.

As you know, permafrost is soil or subsoil that is permanently frozen. It affects almost 20% of the earth’s land area including Alaska, Greenland, Siberia, and Tibet. You mentioned, it can reach a thickness of almost 1,500 m.

It is always good to be cautious with published data (especially Wikipedia). The dates provided by Wikipedia are from research undertaken over 20 years ago, which noted that permafrost is affected by numerous factors, and that at depth the “ … accurate method of detecting which is occurring (either growth or decay) are not available for the field.”

The findings of this and other academic studies of permafrost and allied fields are challenged by the researcher’s prior acceptance of the uniformitarian principle. In the Wikipedia reference that you note, uniformitarianism (continuous and uniform processes at present-day rates) is assumed.

Yet the occurrence of millions of frozen mammoths in permafrost poses a real challenge to this assumption. In the article The extinction of the woolly mammoth: was it a quick freeze? Michael Oard notes that the climate in permafrosted areas was very different in the past. He says:

The mammoths are found with a wide variety of other mammals, large and small, many of which were grazers. They lived in a grassland environment with a long growing season, mild winters, very little permafrost, and a wide diversity of plants.

The mammoths and other animals lived in these regions for some 600 years during the post-Flood Ice Age which began some 4,500 years ago. During this time the climate was ideal for rapid population growth. When this favourable climate ended, mammoths perished in their millions, and were buried and preserved in loess blankets. Had slow and continuous climatic change taken place over hundreds of thousands of years (or even hundreds of years) the mammoth would simply have migrated. Instead, they are found in their millions and “some were entombed in a standing position”. This is solid evidence that the slow rates cited for permafrost development are not correct.

In short, whilst we do not have specific articles on the formation of permafrost, or on its depth, what evidence is available clearly points towards rapid formation in the past, far more rapid than the rates cited from uniformitarian sources which are based on measurements in the present.

Hope this helps,

Ron Neller
Geomorphologist, Speaker, Writer
Creation Ministries International—Australia

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Mike A.
I apologize for my confusion, but is there an explanation for how mammoths could have been buried standing up? I understand that this means rapid burial of some sort, but what rapidly buried them? If, mammoths flourished post-flood, then died off in the millions, what buried them?
Ron Neller
When intense cold sets in animals can freeze in a standing position. Deer, donkeys, dogs and so on have been found frozen and in standing positions after recent cold events in Asia, North America and elsewhere. On the question of how they were buried, scientists have determined that two complete frozen baby woolly mammoths found in Siberia (5000 kilometres apart), both died of asphyxia by inhaling wind-blown dust (see Michael Oard’s article woolly-mammoths-choked-by-dust). In short, they were frozen, then covered in loess (wind-blown sediment, mainly silt) – indeed this article notes that the top of the thick permafrost in much of Siberia is frozen loess and most likely derived from Flood deposited mud. The extent and depth of the deposits suggests that massive dust storms buried the mammoths.
Thomas M.
This article caused me to read the long article referred to in the text "The extinction of the woolly mammoth: was it a quick freeze?" by Michael Oard.
Oard discusses a rather long-lasting geological event, a post-flood ice age, that seems to have started hundreds of years after Noah's world-wide flood. Should we understand that the human authors of Bible texts written during the period of time Oard proposes these events were unaware that they were happening? Or, must we accept that God did not chose to include in the Bible anything about it? I think I read that something in the Book of Job may be a reference to the ice age but that seemed very vague in comparison to the scope and significance of Oard's post-flood ice age. Is there a creationist consensus of any sort as to why humans who lived through the period of the ice age (even if not near the ice) did not record it?
Ron Neller
Thank you for your questions Thomas. From articles on our website you will see that the Post-Flood Ice Age began immediately after the Flood when the ocean temperatures (and possible volcanic dust) favoured the build-up on ice on the continents. This build-up continued, it is estimated, for 500 years until it reached peak ice, and then began to melt back over the following 200 years.

This is a long period of time compared with our human lifespan. The changes would have occurred slowly and not been obvious to the people living at the time. We look back at geological records and create temperature estimates for past climates and can have all this information on a single graph. So, we can label the different parts of the graph as “Ice Age”, Medieval Warm Period” and “Little Ice Age”, etc. But those alive at the time would not have had that long-term perspective. They would not have thought of themselves as living in the Ice Age, or the Medieval Warm Period, for example. These are labels that modern scientists have applied.

The other issue is the area of the earth that the ice build-up covered. Published diagrams showed it covered parts of Europe, Asia, North America, and parts of some southern continents. There is no ice cover in the Middle East. Also, the area of ice cover would have changed (grown and contracted). People living at that time would not have been aware of this global situation because they did not have travel and communications. We have only become aware of it in the last 150 years. So, they would have had no concept of an ice age.

Also, there is not much discussion about the local climate in the Bible. I see that it snows in Jerusalem, but this is not discussed in the Bible. However, they were familiar with snow and ice. If you search a site like Bible Gateway, you can see that snow is mentioned some 25 times and ice about 3 times. It is mentioned in Joshua that the Jordan River was in flood stage, and that was fed by the melting snows on Mount Herman.

In summary, the Ice Age is a modern concept invented to describe a unique period of climate on the earth. This unusual climate only became obvious in the last 200 years after considerable geological exploration globally and after considering the geological history that covered a time-span of thousands of years. The people at the time would not have been aware that they were living in a unique period of climate history, and so would not have thought it was something unusual or notable.

Dan M.
It really is all about faith.
Evolutionists believe in the concept of uniformitarianism by faith the same way we creationists believe the scriptures are from God by faith. The difference is we have a tangible written record which can be tested and they only have imagination and assumption. So logically we creationists are actually more scientific than evolutionists from an evidential standpoint.
Paul said, "Without faith it is impossible to please God" Heb 11:6, but God doesn't require blind faith because in Isa 1:18 He says through the prophet "come now, let us reason together". Of course you have to believe God is speaking through the prophets but considering the foreknowledge they had which can be verified, it is a reasonable assumption. Study the book of Daniel for instants of historically verified fulfilled prophecies. You'll be amazed!
Ron Neller
True indeed! The following expands on this: creation-faith-evolution-science.

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