Lubricated earthquakes

It’s well known that tectonic plates can slip underneath another plate in subduction zones and that violent earthquakes occur when the plates stick and release. Research is revealing the frequency of potential earthquakes. If it weren’t for ‘lubricated’ sliding, British Columbia would have a major earthquake every fourteen months and Japan every six. I’m not sure whether the lubrication is from melting rock or from seawater or a bit of both.

A map of British Columbia's seacoast shows where earthquakes occur

Cascadia subduction zone

Glenn Morton’s “Why I Left Young-Earth Creationism”

From Old Earth Creation Science Ministry.

Copyright 2000 by Glenn R. Morton. This may be freely distributed so long as no changes are made to the text and no charges are made to the reader.

For years I struggled to understand how the geologic data I worked with everyday could be fit into a Biblical perspective. Being a physics major in college I had no geology courses. Thus, as a young Christian,  when I was presented with the view that Christians must believe in a young-earth and global flood, I went along willingly.  I knew there were problems but I thought I was going to solve them. When I graduated from college with a physics degree, physicists were unemployable since NASA had just laid a bunch of them off. I did graduate work in philosophy and then decided to leave school to support my growing family. Even after a year, physicists were still unemployable. After six months of looking, I finally found work as a geophysicist working for a seismic company. Within a year, I was processing seismic data for Atlantic Richfield.

This was where I first became exposed to the problems geology presented to the idea of a global flood.  I would see extremely thick (30,000 feet) sedimentary layers. One could follow these beds from the surface down to those depths where they were covered by vast thicknesses of sediment. I would see buried mountains which had experienced thousands of feet of erosion, which required time. Yet the sediments in those mountains had to have been deposited by the flood, if it was true. I would see faults that were active early but not late and faults that were active late but not early. I would see karsts and sinkholes (limestone erosion) which occurred during the middle of the sedimentary column (supposedly during the middle of the flood) yet the flood waters would have been saturated in limestone and incapable of dissolving lime. It became clear that more time was needed than the global flood would allow. (See http://www.seg.org/publications/geoarchive/1996/sep-oct/geo6105r1336.pdf  for an article showing an example of a deeply buried karst. For a better but bigger (3.4 meg) version of that paper see http://www.netl.doe.gov/publications/proceedings/97/97ng/ng97_pdf/NG4-1.PDF

One also finds erosional canyons buried in the earth. These canyons would require time to excavate, just like the time it takes to erode the Grand Canyon. This picture was downloaded from a site which is now gone from the web. It was http://ic.ucsc.edu/~casey/eart168/3DInterpretation/Deltain3d1.gif

A buried river canyon from a geological survey

I worked hard over the next few years to solve these problems. I published 20+ items in the Creation Research Society Quarterly. I would listen to ICR, have discussions with people like Slusher, Gish, Austin, Barnes and also discuss things with some of their graduates that I had hired.

In order to get closer to the data and know it better, with the hope of finding a solution, I changed subdivisions of my work in 1980. I left seismic processing and went into seismic interpretation where I would have to deal with more geologic data. My horror at what I was seeing only increased. There was a major problem; the data I was seeing at work, was not agreeing with what I had been taught as a Christian. Doubts about what I was writing and teaching began to grow. Unfortunately, my fellow young earth creationists were not willing to listen to the problems. No one could give me a model which allowed me to unite into one cloth what I believed on Sunday and what I was forced to believe by the data Monday through Friday. I was living the life of a double-minded man–believing two things.

By 1986, the growing doubts about the ability of the widely accepted creationist viewpoints to explain the geologic data led to a nearly 10 year withdrawal from publication. My last  young-earth paper was entitled Geologic Challenges to a Young-earth, which I presented as the first paper in the First International Conference on Creationism. It was not well received. Young-earth creationists don’t like being told they are wrong. The reaction to the pictures, seismic data, the logic disgusted me. They were more interested in what I sounded like than in the data!

John Morris came to the stage to challenge me. He claimed to have been in the oil industry.  I asked him what oil company he had worked for.  I am going to let an account of this published in the Skeptical Inquirer in late 86 or early 87.  It was written by Robert Schadewald.  He writes,

“John Morris went to the microphone and identified himself as a petroleum geologist. He questioned Morton’s claim that pollen grains are found in salt formations, and accused Morton of sounding like an anticreationist, raising more problems  than his critics could respond to in the time available.  Morris said that the ICR staff is working on these problems all the time.  He told Morton to quit raising problems and start solving them. “Morton chopped him off at the ankles.  Two questions, said Morton: ‘What oil company did you work for?’  Well, uh, actually Morris never worked for an oil company, but he once taught petroleum engineering  at the University of Oklahoma.  Second, How old is the Earth?’ ‘If the earth is more than 10,000 years old then Scripture has no meaning.’  Morton then said that he had hired several graduates of Christian Heritage College, and that all of them suffered severe crises of faith.  The were utterly unprepared to face the geologic facts every petroleum geologist deals with on a daily basis.  Morton neglected to add that ICR is much better known for ignoring or denying problems than dealing with them.”

It appeared that the more I questions I raised, the more they questioned my theological purity. When telling one friend of my difficulties with young-earth creationism and geology, he told me that I had obviously been brain-washed by my geology professors. When I told him that I had never taken a geology course, he then said I must be saying this in order to hold my job. Never would he consider that I might really believe the data. Since then this type of treatment has become expected from young-earthers. I have been called nearly everything under the sun but they don’t deal with the data I present to them. Here is a list of what young-earthers have called me in response to my data: ‘an apostate,’ (Humphreys) ‘a heretic’ (Jim Bell although he later apologised like the gentleman he is), ‘a compromiser’ (Henry Morris), “absurd”, “naive”, “compromising”, “abysmally ignorant”, “sloppy”, “reckless disregard”, “extremely inaccurate”, “misleading”, “tomfoolery” and “intentionally deceitful” (John Woodmorappe), ‘like your father, Satan’ (Carl R. Froede–I am proud to have this one because Jesus was once said to have been of satan also.), ‘your loyality and commitment to Jesus Christ is shaky or just not truly genuine’ (John Baumgardner 12-24-99 [Merry Christmas]) “[I] have secretly entertained suspicions of a Trojan horse roaming behind the lines…” Royal Truman 12-28-99.

Above I say that I with drew from publishing for 10 years. I need to make one item clear. It is true that I published a couple of items in the late 80s. The truth is that these were an edited letter exchange I had with George Howe. When George approached me about the Mountain Building symposium, I told him I didn’t want to write it. He said that was ok he would write it, give it to me for ok and then publish it.  Since it was merely splicing a bunch of letters together, it was my words, but George’s editorship that made that article. To all intents and purposes I was through with young-earth creationist (not ism yet) because I knew that they didn’t care about the data.

But eventually, by 1994 I was through with young-earth creationISM. Nothing that young-earth creationists had taught me about geology turned out to be true. I took a poll of my ICR graduate friends who have worked in the oil industry.  I asked them one question.

“From your oil industry experience, did any fact that you were taught at ICR, which challenged current geological thinking, turn out in the long run to be true?”

That is a very simple question.  One man, Steve Robertson, who worked for Shell grew real silent on the phone, sighed and softly said ‘No!’  A very close friend that I had hired at Arco, after hearing the question, exclaimed, “Wait a minute.  There has to be one!”  But he could not name one.  I can not name one.  No one else could either.  One man I could not reach, to ask that question, had a crisis of faith about two years after coming into the oil industry.  I do not know what his spiritual state is now but he was in bad shape the last time I talked to him.

And being through with creationism, I very nearly became through with Christianity.  I was on the very verge of becoming an atheist. During that time, I re-read a book I had reviewed prior to its publication. It was Alan Hayward’s Creation/Evolution. Even though I had reviewed it 1984 prior to its publication in 1985, I hadn’t been ready for the views he expressed. He presented a wonderful Days of Proclamation view which pulled me back from the edge of atheism. Although I believe Alan applied it to the earth in an unworkable fashion, his view had the power to unite the data with the Scripture, if it was applied differently. That is what I have done with my views.  Without that I would now be an atheist.  There is much in Alan’s book I agree with and much I disagree with but his book was very important in keeping me in the faith. While his book may not have changed the debate totally yet, it did change my life.
References
For an example of a seismic karst during the middle of the geologic column

  1. Go to http://seg.org/ .
  2. Select ‘publications’.
  3. Select ‘Geoarchives’.
  4. Select ‘1996’.
  5. Select ‘September and October’.
  6. Select ‘pdf’ from 3-D seismic reflection tomography on top of the GOCAD depth modeler Jean Luc Guiziou, Jean Laurent Mallet and Raül Madariaga.
  7. Scroll down to page 6-8 on the acrobat reader. These are pages 1341-1343 of the original journal.

There you will see 3d seismic data that shows evidence of a subaerial erosional event supposedly in the middle of a world wide flood!

For those who want to go to the library it is Vol. 61, No. 5, September-October 1996 Geophysics.

This testimony originally published on Glenn Morton’s website.

Rocks

Mesa of sedimentary rock coloured by sunset

Rocks rock!

This image from the Grand Canyon comes to you from Schurs Astrophotography.

I like that they refer to the growing dark after sunset as the Earth’s shadow.

Adventures in Science

orange book cover with picture of Galapagos TortoiseSean B. Carroll’s book Remarkable Creatures is about major discoveries in evolution. He glides over a few details, but it’s very readable. I’d like to see each chapter done as a book about the Exciting History of Science for young people. I’m learning things I never knew: that Charles Doolittle Walcott, in addition to discovering the Burgess shale with its Cambrian Explosion fauna:

  • surveyed 25,000 vertical feet of geological strata over two seasons,
  • was one of the first 20 employees of the U.S. Geological service
  • found the first Precambrian fossils
  • consulted in the passing of the Antiquities Act to protect significant sites (e.g. Grand Canyon) and the founding of the National Park Service,
  • drafted the bill that created the national forest reserves
  • secured a museum building to house the National Museum, later the Smithsonian
  • was a science adviser to several U.S. presidents
  • raised the money from private donors to have 12,000 specimens from Roosevelt’s African expedition preserved and shipped back to the U.S.
  • discovered hundreds of thousands of fossils during summer field expeditions with his family
  • brought the Wright brothers official recognition for their work
  • and helped to found the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which became NASA

The colors of iron

On recent travels, I’ve seen a lot of rocks and soils that are dark grey, purple, red, and ochre. All of these colors come from iron. This monograph explains how one element can cause so many colors, at least in sandstone: Rainbow of Rocks.

Igneous rocks: formation and classification

Here’s a quick link to a good explanation of igneous (“formed by fire”) rocks: Igneous Rocks: Formation and Classification, by by amelianavarro.

Briefly, igneous rocks are formed from melted rock. Higher water content makes it easier for rocks to melt.

Conditions of formation:

  • Intrusive rocks harden inside the earth and tend to cool slowly, forming larger crystals.
  • Extrusive rocks harden on the surface or in air. Usually, it is volcanoes that extrude them as lava, ash, or flying rocks. Extrusive rocks may expand explosively and cool rapidly. They may even be cooled by sea-water.

Classification by texture:

  • Phaneritic rocks have large crystals that are easy to see without magnification, e.g. granite.
  • Aphaneritic rocks have small, sand-like crystals. They may feel smooth. An example is basalt. Their crystals are so small that the human eye cannot see them [easily?] without a lens.
  • Porphryitic rocks have both small and large crystals. One may impulsively assume that large crystals make them phaneritic, so  looks can be deceiving. An example is andesite.
  • Glassy rocks always look shiny. They may feel smooth or greasy. An example is obsidian. They form when molten rock cools very quickly.
  • Vescular rocks have many holes, with holes formed by expanding gasses. They are usually extrusive. A well-known example is pumice.

Classification by silica content :

  • Felsic rocks have more silica. They are usually light in color.
  • Mafic rocks have more iron and magnesium. They are usually dark in color.

I wonder how much silica (SiO2) it takes to be truly “felsic”.

More about the oldest rocks ever

Rocks formed from old mantle were found on Baffin Island in northwestern Canada. The rocks have been seen before, but they awaited dating methods that could distinguish them from the rest of the rocks on Earth. When lava solidifies, elements with their isotopes are frozen into it. We can use them to calculate the age of the rock.

The Earth’s mantle is the hot, stony layer between its crust and the nickel-iron core. Its upper layers can flow, however slowly, but further down it is compressed into a solid by the weight above it.

How can the mantle be modern or primitive? Isn’t it just a ball of molten ooze? Not exactly.

As the Earth formed, it melted from the energy of incoming material. When the loose material in the inner system was mostly accumulated, bombardment slowed and the molten Earth cooled off. In the molten crust, dense material sank to become the core and lighter material floated to the surface. Slow convection currents in the magma probably helped the continents to form in the cooler areas when less dense material was pushed aside by hot, rising plumes. Continents of lightweight silicon-aluminum rock, or sial, float on denser silicon-magnesium rock, or sima. Since the Earth’s crust cooled and solidified it has cracked into several large slabs or plates. The plates slide under or over each other, so that the upper plate is lifted into mountains, as in the U.S. Rockies. They ram into each other, and are compressed, buckling and folding into mountains, as in the Canadian Rockies.  The most spectacular example occurs where India collided with Asia, raising the Himalayas.

Over millions of years, wind, water, ice, and gravity erode the mountains back into rocks and particles, creating new sedimentary rock. However, particles in this rock still have the age signature of the original crust.  Discovery.com has the story:

But these rocks contain an early Earth mixture of helium, lead and neodymium isotopes which suggest the mantle rock beneath the crust that yielded them is a virgin pocket of Earth’s original material.That pocket survived for 4.5 billion years under Baffin Island without being mixed by plate tectonics or erupted onto the surface.

“I was surprised that any of the (original) mantle survived,” said geoscientist Matthew Jackson of Boston University. He is the lead author on a paper announcing the discovery in this week’s issue of the journal Nature. “Finding a piece of the original mantle has been a holy grail. The original Earth was a big ball of magma. That’s our (planet’s) original composition.”

The discovery has surprised other researchers as well.

“Even if a vestige of such material remained, it seems unlikely that it would be found in any samples from Earth’s surface or the shallow subsurface that are available to geologists,” observed David Graham of Oregon State University in Corvallis, who wrote a commentary in the same issue of Nature. “Yet that is what (this) new evidence suggests.”

One of the obstacles in finding rocks from such ancient mantle, up to now, has been that researchers had assumed early Earth was composed of rocks with helium and lead isotope matching those of a type of ancient meteorite called a chondrite.

That may be true up to a point, said Jackson. Some recent research by scientists at the Carnegie Institution of Washington has suggested that the Earth’s early mantle would also have tell-tale neodymium isotopes that are unlike chondrites.

“That turns out to be the same as we find in these lavas (from Baffin Island),” said Jackson.

The other signs of untouched ancient mantle material — which has not before lost any of its material to Earth’s surface or been otherwise tainted — is a large amount of the isotopes helium-3 relative to helium-4. There is also an very old lead-isotope signature.

It was these three criteria — the helium, lead and neodymium — that led Jackson and his team to the conclusion that the Baffin Islands’ massive volcanic cliffs are made of the oldest material on the planet.

As for how much of this original mantle might be around, the only way to tell is to look at lava rocks and see if they came from such stuff, said Jackson.

It occurs to me that if there are longstanding downward currents of cooled magma in the mantle, there are places that are between those “downdrafts” and furthest from their influence. Those would be the most likely places for old magma to stay in place near the surface.

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