This article is from
Journal of Creation 34(3):12–14, December 2020

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Uniformitarian scientists claim ‘snowball Earth’ caused the Great Unconformity


Figure 1. The top of the Beartooth Mountains in south-central Montana showing the Great Unconformity cut flat on granite and gneiss of the upper crust. The erosion surface has been faulted upward to various altitudes, while the portion in the foreground has been roughened by erosion.

Uniformitarian scientists often force themselves into an intellectual trap when they must fit their previous assumptions and conclusions into a coherent whole. For instance, the uniformitarian dating of deep-sea cores has led uniformitarians to believe that glacial/interglacial oscillations of the past 900 ka oscillated every 100 ka. This was proposed so they could harmonize the cores with changes in the eccentricity of the earth’s orbit. However, the Milankovitch cycle produces extremely little change in total, hemispheric, or seasonal solar radiation on the earth.1,2 But they are stuck with the 100 ka cycle. As a result, uniformitarian, aka secular scientists have been vainly searching for some kind of boosting mechanism for almost 50 years. Another trap for secular scientists is the idea that snowball Earth, part of their pre-Pleistocene ‘ice ages’, somehow carved the Great Unconformity.

Snowball Earth challenges uniformitarianism

The ‘snowball Earth’ idea proposes the earth was totally or almost totally glaciated at times within the Proterozoic, 2.5 billion (Ga) to 542 million (Ma) years ago in the uniformitarian geological timescale.3,4 Proterozoic ice ages, as well as Paleozoic ice ages, are based on finding glacial till-like rocks and other features within sedimentary rocks, thought to be diagnostic of glaciation.5,6 Many of these supposed ice age deposits in the Proterozoic are found at low paleolatitude, based on paleomagnetism, and are marine. Thus, secular scientists have been forced to conclude that the earth was totally glaciated or mostly so several times in the Proterozoic. One was in the early Proterozoic, or Paleoproterozoic.7,8 The number of Earth-covering glaciations in the Neoproterozoic has been debated, ranging from possibly four,9 three,10 or two.11 Keller et al. believe the Sturtian ice age (717–660 Ma) and Marinoan ice age (641–635 Ma) were global while the Gaskiers ice age (~580 Ma) was almost global.

The snowball Earth idea has raised two major challenges for secular scientists because they insist that practically all the till-like rock deposits were formed by glaciation. First, with a snow-covered surface, the earth would probably cool 100°C12 due to the high reflectivity (albedo) of snow and the lack of heat sources (other than the sun). Second, some outrageous hypothesis is needed to melt the snow and ice, and do it at a time when solar luminosity was 10–30% less than it is today. The weak sun is due to their adherence to the big bang ‘theory’ which starts out with a faint sun.13,14 One proposal to melt a glaciated earth is for CO2 to increase 50–225 times,15,16 although these figures are disputed.17

Some secular scientists have suggested alternative hypotheses for the glacial-like features, such as mass flow for the Proterozoic ‘ice age’ features,18 and I believe they are correct.5 These Proterozoic, as well as Paleozoic, deposits, some of which are the size of the state of Texas, USA, can readily be explained by gigantic submarine mass flows during the earliest stages of the Flood.5,19

Snowball Earth claimed to be the cause the Great Unconformity

As if the problems from the hypothesis of snowball Earth are not enough, several secular scientists also claim that snowball Earth eroded an average of 3,000–5,000 m of rock from the earth’s surface to produce the Great Unconformity!20 The Great Unconformity is an erosional surface often observed on igneous and metamorphic crystalline rocks of the upper crust and/or Precambrian sedimentary rocks deposited in deep basins. The Great Unconformity is a nearly flat surface but does have a little relief in places, which is why it is called an erosional surface and not a true planation surface. It is found near the bottom of the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, USA,21 and surprisingly at the tops of the mountains in parts of Wyoming and Montana.22 In the Beartooth Mountains of Wyoming and Montana, the Great Unconformity has been faulted to different altitudes, up to over 4,000 m above mean sea level. It has been partially eroded in some areas, but is still observable (figure 1).

It is likely the Canadian Shield (at least in part), where most Phanerozoic sedimentary rocks are missing, based on erosional remnants of mostly Paleozoic sedimentary rocks, represents a huge exposure of the Great Unconformity. It is claimed that portions of the Canadian Shield experienced about 5,000 m of erosion mostly during the Neoproterozoic, deduced from the exposure of the lower portion of the Sudbury Impact Structure in Ontario, Canada.23

The Great Unconformity is considered global in extent, but highly diachronous (i.e. thought to have been formed at different times) and likely not one large erosion surface on each continent:

“While nonconformity between sediment and crystalline basement is ubiquitous on all the continents, it is highly diachronous (6). This diachroneity of amalgamated unconformities has helped to obscure the global significance of Neoproterozoic glacial erosion.”24

Thus, uniformitarian scientists conclude that the Great Unconformity is likely more a series of local-to-regional unconformities on each continent with anywhere from 200 Ma to over 2 Ga of time missing from the generally flat-lying sediments on top.

Indeed, the Great Unconformity is a major mystery for uniformitarian scientists:

“The Great Unconformity, a profound gap in Earth’s stratigraphic record often evident below the base of the Cambrian system, has remained among the most enigmatic field observations in Earth science for over a century.”25

One of the most perplexing observations is that the Great Unconformity is not associated with any tectonic event, like other unconformities in the rock record: “Erosional unconformities are common throughout the geological record and often have a plausible tectonic cause.”26

Secular scientists throw in several hundred million to a few billion years to explain how snowball Earth could have eroded thousands of metres of rock. They claim glacial erosion must have been variable with ice sheets that ranged from very thin to 6,000 m thick. Most of the ice movement is attributed to surface slope. Nonetheless, the ice sheets had to be exceedingly active to erode 5,000 m of rock. It is not realistic for ice to build to a thickness of 6,000 m, since the thicker the ice sheet becomes, the colder and drier the climate would also become, and the more it would distance itself from a moisture source. Moreover, an ice and snow cover would produce colder temperatures by snow/albedo reinforcement: the more fresh snow the colder the temperatures would become. When temperatures continue to fall well below freezing, the air can hold less and less moisture. It soon becomes ‘too cold for snow’, as they say in the far north.

The authors of the paper on snowball Earth suggest that sublimation, in which the ice ‘evaporates’ could provide the necessary moisture.10 But as temperatures of the atmosphere plunge toward –100°C, especially with much less solar radiation due to the faint ‘young’ sun, it is doubtful significant sublimation could occur. Besides, sublimation is taking from the snow and then redepositing it for no net gain.

And of course there is the problem that as snow and ice spread everywhere, it would quickly become cold-based and frozen in places, and therefore non-erosional.26 Interestingly, according to the hypothesis late Proterozoic snowball Earth melted for short periods of time—three times! And all of this occurred from 717 Ma to around 580 Ma when life was supposedly evolving just prior to the Cambrian explosion.

The authors then go on to ask: where did all the sediments from 5,000 m of continental erosion go? The sediments ended up in the oceans, they say, but then all disappeared by subduction, 26 conveniently leaving no record and also no proof that their hypothesis is tenable.

Creation science implications

The idea that snowball Earth could even occur and that it could erode an average of 3,000 to 5,000 m of rock shows just how easily secular scientists can box themselves into a corner because of their paradigm. The faint young sun should have produced snowball Earth for the entire Proterozoic and all but the early Archean, when the earth was supposedly hot. These should be fatal paradoxes to the evolutionary/uniformitarian worldview. This all goes to show that another explanation is more plausible: God’s account of Creation and the Flood (Genesis 1–11).

More specifically, the evidence for ancient glaciations can be better explained by submarine mass flow during the Flood.5 There was no time in the past that the sun was faint because there was no Big Bang and no billions of years. The Great Unconformity indeed does represent great erosion that occurred early in the Flood, but how much erosion is unknown. Such erosion could easily have happened at the beginning of the Flood when it was dominated by tsunami-like currents, very heavy rain, and powerful turbulence.27 After the initial catastrophism of the Flood, sediments were rapidly deposited on the Great Unconformity during the Great Deposition.28 After most of the Flood sediments had been deposited into fossil-rich layers, sometimes thousands of metres thick, the majority of the world’s mountains and even portions of the continents rose and the adjacent valleys sank, including the ocean basins late in the Flood year. Powerful tectonic forces helped to cause the Floodwater to drain into the oceans.29,30 Global uplift of the mountain ranges at the end of the Flood explains why the Great Unconformity is now residing at the tops of the mountains, including those in southern Montana and Wyoming. The big picture of geology agrees with the biblical record.


I thank Carla Estell for pointing out the 2019 article by Keller et al.

Posted on homepage: 11 March 2022

References and notes

  1. Oard, M.J., The 100,000-year Milankovitch cycle of ice ages challenged, J. Creation 12(1):9–10, 1998. Return to text.
  2. Oard, M.J., Astronomical troubles for the astronomical hypothesis of ice ages, J. Creation 21(3):19–23, 2007. Return to text.
  3. Crowell, J.C., Pre-Mesozoic ice ages: their bearing on understanding the climate system, Geological Society of America Memoir 192, Geological Society of America, Boulder, CO, 1999. Return to text.
  4. Oard, M.J., ‘Snowball earth’–a problem for the supposed origin of multicelullar animalsJ. Creation 16(1):6–9, 2002. Return to text.
  5. Hambrey, M.J. and Harland, W.B., Earth’s Pre-Pleistocene Glacial Record, Cambridge University Press, London, UK, 1981. Return to text.
  6. Oard, M.J., Ancient Ice Ages or Gigantic Submarine Landslides? Creation Research Society Books, Chino Valley, AZ, 1997. Return to text.
  7. Kopp, R.E., Kirschvink, J.L., Hilburn, I.A., and Nash, C.Z., The Paleoproterozoic snowball earth: a climate disaster triggered by the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis, Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. USA (PNAS) 102(32):11131–11136, 2005. Return to text.
  8. Oard, M.J., Another tropical ice age? J. Creation 11(3):259–261, 1997. Return to text.
  9. Hoffman, P.E. and Schrag, D.P., Snowball earth, Scientific American 282(1):68–75, 2000. Return to text.
  10. Keller, C.B., Husson, J.M., Mitchell, R.N., Bottke, W.F., Gernon, T.M., Boehnke, P., Bell, E.A., Swanson-Hysell, N.L., and Peters, S.E., Neoproterozoic glacial origin of the Great Unconformity, PNAS 116: 1136–1145, 2019; p. 1139. Return to text.
  11. Elie, M., Nogueira, C.R., Nédélec, A., Trindade, R.I.F., and Kenig, F., A red algal bloom in the aftermath of the Marinoan snowball earth, Terra Nova 19:303–309, 2007. Return to text.
  12. Budyko, M.I., The heat balance of the earth; in: Gribbin, J. (Ed.), Climatic Change, Cambridge University Press, London, UK, p. 95, 1978. Return to text.
  13. Faulkner, D., The young faint sun paradox and the age of the solar system, J. Creation 15(2):3–4, 2001. Return to text.
  14. Oard, M.J., Is the faint young sun paradox solved? J. Creation 25(2):17–19, 2011. Return to text.
  15. Kasemann, S.A., Hawkesworth, J.C., Prave, A.R., Fallick, A.E., and Pearson, P.N., Boron and calcium isotope composition in Neoproterozoic carbonate rocks from Namibia: evidence for extreme environmental change, Earth and Planetary Science Letters 231:73–86, 2005. Return to text.
  16. Bao, H., Lyons, J.R., and Zhou, C., Triple oxygen isotope evidence for elevated CO2 levels after a Neoproterozoic glaciation, Nature 453:504–506, 2008. Return to text.
  17. Sansjofre, P., Ader, M., Trindade, R.I.F, Elie, M., Lyons, J., Cartigny, P., and Nogueira, A.C.R., A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth, Nature 478:93–96, 2011. Return to text.
  18. Schermerhorn, L.J.G., Late Precambrian mixtites: glacial and/or nonglacial? American J. Science 274:673–824, 1974. Return to text.
  19. Oard, M.J., The challenge of ancient ice ages answered, Creation 38(1):48–50, 2016. Return to text.
  20. Keller et al., ref. 10, pp. 1136–1145. Return to text.
  21. Oard, M.J., 2016, A Grand Origin for Grand Canyon, Creation Research Society, Chino Valley, AZ. Return to text.
  22. Oard, M.J., The meaning of the Great Unconformity and Sauk Megasequence, J. Creation 28(1):12–15, 2014. Return to text.
  23. Keller et al., ref. 10, p. 1140. Return to text.
  24. Keller et al., ref. 10, p. 1141. Return to text.
  25. Keller et al., ref. 10, p. 1136. Return to text.
  26. Keller et al., ref. 10, p. 1139. Return to text.
  27. Dickens, H., The ‘Great Unconformity’ and associated geochemical evidence for Noahic Flood erosion, J. Creation 30(1):8–10, 2016. Return to text.
  28. Oard, M.J. and Reed, J.K., How Noah’s Flood Shaped Our Earth, Creation Book Publishers, Powder Springs, GA, 2017. Return to text.
  29. Oard, M.J., Flood by Design: Receding water shapes the earth’s surface, Master Books, Green Forest, AR, 2008. Return to text.
  30. Oard, M.J., ebook. Earth’s Surface Shaped by Genesis Flood Runoff, 2013, Michael.oards.net/GenesisFloodRunoff.htm. Return to text.

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