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Young Islands, Canyons, and Dinosaurs

from the January 15, 2013 eNews issue

According to most respected geologists, the Earth is 4.7 billion years old, give or take a few days. Suggesting that the Earth is much younger can raise the ire of even the most chipper, likeable geology professor. Yet, there is evidence that geological processes can take place in a much shorter time span than historical geologists tend to assume, and odd things have been found out of place – in the wrong time and the wrong geological layer.

The true age of the planet remains somewhat of a mystery, and geologists certainly have reason to regard the world as fairly old. After all, Hadrian's Wall cuts along northern England, relatively solid after two-thousand years of weathering. The Great Pyramid of Giza remains more than 4500 years after its completion. When geologists consider that mountain ranges have washed away and the once jagged peaks of the great Canadian Shield have been worn down to rolling hills, they reason that such massive erosion could not have taken place in a mere few millennia.

At the same time, sometimes geological events do much greater creation and destruction in a short time than we'd ever have expected.

On the 14th of November in 1963, a steaming, smoking volcanic eruption that had started 426 feet below sea level produced enough cooled rock to peek out of the water. Over the course of that week, the island grew to a height of 145 feet. When the island finally stopped rising in June of 1967, it had matured to a height of almost 500 feet and covered an area of two square miles. The island was named Surtsey after the Norse god of fire, Surtur.

Because of its newness, Surtsey has been closely studied by scientists who want to watch how the flora and fauna of the island develop and by others who have monitored its growth and its subsequent decay. The amazing thing about Surtsey, though, is not just its rapid birth, but its rapid aging as well. In 1964, when Surtsey was just a year old, Iceland's top geophysicist Sigurdur Thorarinsson described the island in his book, Surtsey: The New Island in the North Atlantic:

"On Surtsey, only a few months sufficed for a landscape to be created which was so varied and mature that it was almost beyond belief... You might come to a beach covered with flowing lava on its way to the sea with white balls of smoke rising high up in the air. Three weeks later you might come back to the same place and be literally confounded by what met your eye. Now, there were precipitous lava cliffs of considerable height, and below them you would see boulders worn by the surf, some of which were almost round... and further out there was a sandy beach where you could walk at low tide without getting wet."

The geologist continued his amazement later in National Geographic ( 127(5):712–726) in 1965, saying: " … in one week’s time we witness changes that elsewhere might take decades or even centuries … Despite the extreme youth of the growing island, we now encounter a landscape so varied that it is almost beyond belief."

Perhaps "elsewhere" the changes did not take decades or centuries after all. Perhaps geologists just assume they did. Without the ability to watch features form firsthand, geologists can infer the history of a site based more on reasoning than on experimental evidence. Unless they can watch the same geologic processes take place elsewhere, producing the same results, they can err in the story they put together from the rocks.

Mt. St. Helens:
When Mount St. Helens erupted in late May of 1980, it created geological results in minutes and days that were previously believed to take vast lengths of time. On June 12, 1980, a mud flow left a deposit 25 feet thick with thin laminae and beds. These kinds of sedimentary laminae and beds had been assumed to represent thousands or millions of years as they were laid down one season at a time. Instead, this mud flow produced 25 feet worth of thin layers in a single day.

Mount St. Helens taught geologists that erosion can take place rapidly as well. Badlands topography in the form of rills and gullies appeared at the margins of seam explosion pits within five days after the Mount St. Helen's pumice had been deposited in May of 1980. Nearly two years after the explosion, on March 19, 1982, a mud flow eroded a canyon much like a miniature form of the Grand Canyon in the headwaters of the North Fork of the Toutle River Valley. It did not take millions of years for this canyon system to erode; it took a day.

Mount St. Helen's rapid formation of geologic features should give geologists pause. The results of the mountain's eruption and mud flows do not prove that Earth is extremely young, but they do demonstrate that canyons and thick layers of sediment are not necessarily old.

There's more than growing islands and volcanic eruptions to disrupt the textbook story about the age of the earth. From their early school days, children are taught that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago at the end of the Cretaceous. Yet, in art and in mud, there are signs that dinosaurs and humans weren't always apart.

Dinosaur Art:
Legends of dragons can be found in cultures across the world, from China to Norway. Dinosaur-like creatures are also found in a wide variety of ancient art that can be readily seen today - at ancient sites around the world, at various creation museums and in pictures conveniently placed online [see links below]. Sauropod-shaped handles on pottery jugs from the Mississippi Caddo Indians of the 13th century AD; a stegosaurus carving on a column of the Ta Prohm monastery in Cambodia, dedicated in 1186; burial stones from Ica, Peru showing pictures of dinosaurs and humans together; the faint, desert varnished pictograph of a sauropod on the wall next to other Anasazi wall art on the inside of the Kachina Bridge at the Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah, and many other forms of dinosaur art demonstrate that human beings did see dinosaurs in times far more recent than 65 million years ago.

"And God said, Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind: and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth." - Genesis 1:24-26

"Behold now behemoth, which I made with thee;" -Job 40:15

This world is a mystery. The pages of its history given to us have left many stories untold. We do not necessarily have tales for every flood or hurricane or tsunami. We don't know what earthquakes or volcanic eruptions or glaciers rocked and carved the earth. The more data we collect, carefully and honestly, the greater the clues we have of the tales that are still written to us in the very rocks. Which, if we don't beat them to it, may still cry out in praise to our God.



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