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!
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,
Geomorphologist, Speaker, Writer
Creation Ministries International—Australia