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Salt in the Sea Argument--The Solution to the Creationist Puzzle

Copyright 1998 G.R. Morton. This may be freely copied and distributed so long as no changes are made and no monetary charges are required. (home.entouch.net/dmd/salt.htm)

Austin and Humphreys have claimed that the sodium budget in the oceans indicates a young earth. They claim that there is a huge imbalance in the input versus the output of the sodium. This is erroneous. This letter was sent to Steve Austin on the date noted, but as of July 27, 1998, there has been no response. The letter below is slightly altered to take into account some new information. The calculation in the letter clearly shows that sodium does leave the ocean contrary to the claims of the young-earth creationists.

Sometime in 1999 or 2000 a gentleman informed me of a mathematical error in this letter. I revised the math so it is slightly different from the letter I sent Steve. The error in no way affects the conclusion. Steve Austin called this difference to my attention again. teve then requested certain technical changes in the letter which I will perform assuming I come the conclusion that he is correct.

Below, after the letter and its references I will make some more comments about the recent discussion Steve and I have had on this issue.

Glenn Morton


Glenn R. Morton
16075 Longvista Dr.
Dallas, TX 75248
Oct 4, 1997

Dr. Steven A. Austin
Institute for Creation Research
10846 Woodside Ave. N.
Santee, CA 92071

Dear Steve

First thing. I would like to get hold of Joe. Do you have an address for him? I asked this about a year ago and you didn't respond. I am trying again. Just give me the city he is in and I can probably find him. If he has an e-mail address that would be best.

Secondly, I think I have found a numerical solution to the sodium problem. It involves albitization, which you have consistently maintained has no relevance to the output of sodium from the sea. I say this because you have consistently said that albitization has a value of 0 in the output column. This is wrong. The article of relevance is K. L. Von Damm, “Controls on the Chemistry and Temporal Variability of Seafloor Hydrothermal Fluids,” in Humphris et al editors, Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems: Physical, Chemical, Biological and Geological Interactions, Geophysical Monograph 91, (Washington: American Geophysical Union, 1995), pp 222-247.

Von Damm states,

“Sodium is by far the most abundant cation in hydrothermal fluids, and as such, its cycle is tightly tied to that of chloride. Sodium is not conservative in water-rock reactions as is chloride, but has a major sink in the albitization of basalt. The largest sodium deficits with respect to chloride are found in high chlorinity fluids. In a few cases the Na/Cl ratio is slightly greater than in seawater and the cause of this is not well understood.” (Von Damm, 1995, p. 238)

and

“Sodium, the most abundant cation, of necessity tracks chloride, but where it does not (i.e., the Na/Cl ratio is lower than the seawater value) provides our best evidence that albitization is an active process in hydrothermal vent systems.” (Von Damm, 1995 p. 240)

The most important statement is the conservative nature of chlorine. If one can count on the fact that the number of chlorine atoms in the hydrothermal fluids are not changed by the trip through the hydrothermal system, and can assume that the chlorine comes from the seawater, then the sodium/chlorine ratio reflects the fate of sodium. Here is the data Von Damm gives for various hydrothermal systems.

                              Chlorinity Sodium ratio
                                 mmol/kg mmol/kg

North East Pacific

Escanaba Trough                   668     560     .838

Juan de Fuca

s. cleft plume                   1087     796     .7322
s. cleft vent 1                   896     661     .7377
s. cleft vent 3                   951     784     .8243

North Cleft Juan de Fuca

Pipe organ                       1245     924     .7421
Monolith 1990                     908     695     .7654
         1991                     875     682     .7794
Table Brigadoon                   880     681     .7738

Axial volcano Juan de Fuca

inferno                           624     499     .7996
Hell                              550     446     .8109
Mushroom                          520     446     .8576
Hillock                           482     391     .8112
Crack                             258     209     .8100
Virgin Mound                      176     148     .8409

Endeavour segment Juan de Fuca

Hulk                              505     391     .7742
Crypto                            479     371     .7745
TP                                448     350     .7812
Dante                             457     358     .7833
Grotto                            425     332     .7811
LOBO                              428     336     .7850
Dudley                            349     271     .7765
S&M                               334     260     .7784
Peanut                            253     216     .8537
North                             477     378     .7924

Mid Atlantic Ridge

MARK                              559     510     .9123
Tag Mid Atlantic Ridge            659     584     .8861

(Von Damm, 1995, p. 229-230)

Now, seawater contains 470 mmol/kg water sodium, and 550 mmol/kg water chlorine. The normal sodium/chlorine molar ratio= .8545. Averaging the numbers in Von Damm's paper, we find that .800 is the sodium/chlorine ratio of hydrothermal output. The difference between the input ratio and output ratio is .054. This means that .054*550 mmol/kg= 29.7 mmol/kg water sodium is removed from the sea.

To convert this to grams of sodium we find, .0297 moles removed/kg water * 22 g/mole=.65 g of sodium per kg water is removed by the hydrothermal process.

Since the annual flow rate of seawater through the hydrothermal systems is (2-9) x 1014 kg/yr (Holland, 1978), this means (using the low point of this range),

2 x 1014 kg/yr*.65 g/kg water= 1.3 x 1014 g of sodium removed per year or 1.3 x 1011 kg per year

How does this compare to your value of sodium input? Both in Austin and Humphreys (1990) and in your letter of June 24, 1996 you cite a maximum input to the seas of 4.5 x 1011 kg of sodium input to the sea each year. In your letter you revised the output to be 1.46 x 1011 kg/yr, but you have 0 for albitization. Adding the albitization value to your June 24,1996 value we have a total output of 4.9 x 1011 kg/year. Thus, considering the slop in the numbers, we can conclude that the oceans are roughly in balance in regard to sodium.

Your June 24, 1996 output list should be revised to show

Process                          1010 kg/yr

Sea Spray                         8.0 +/- 2.4
Low-T brine alteration(saponite)  0.44 +/- 0.37
High T Brine alteration (albite) 13.0
Burial of pore water              2.2 +/- 1.5
Halite deposition                   0 *
Cation exchange                   3.5 +/- .2
Zeolite formation                 0.08 +/- 0.04
biogenic silica                   0.046 +/- 0.023
biogenic carbonates               0.19 +/- 0.05

       Total                      27.456 x 1010 kg/yr

Evaporation (Halite deposition) should have a time-averaged value because of the geologically episodic output.

>>This was not in the original letter. The above value of 0 for Halite deposition came from a letter Austin sent me. But in the 1990 2nd International Conference On Creationism, Vol 2 p. 21, Austin and Humphreys have a published value of 4 x 1010 kg/yr. Adding this to the 27.4 above yields an output of 31 x 1010 kg/yr. This corresponds to a published 45 x 1010 kg/yr maximum input and a 35 x 1010 kg/yr minimum input to the seas (From the 2nd ICC volume). >>

Even if we use the maximum input and the minimum output I calculated, the sea will be in sodium balance for a long, long time because as one goes back into the past, there is successively less and less land area because the sea is covering the continents. This means that the input of salt to the sea decreases significantly by the time one makes it to the Cretaceous.

References

  • Austin, Steven A. and Russell Huphreys, 1990. “The Sea's Missing Salt: A Dilemma for Evolutionists,” 2nd Intl. Conf. on Creationism, (Pittsburgh, 1990),pp 17-33
  • Heinrich D. Holland, 1978 The Chemistry of the Atmosphere and Oceans, (John Wiley and Sons, 1978), p. 196)
  • Von Damm, K. L.,1995. “Controls on the Chemistry and Temporal Variability of Seafloor Hydrothermal Fluids,” in Humphris et al editors, Seafloor Hydrothermal Systems: Physical, Chemical, Biological and Geological Interactions, Geophysical Monograph 91, (Washington: American Geophysical Union, 1995), pp 222-247,

Further Comments

Steve e-mailed me on 12/19/01 with three demands. First he wanted to know why I had altered the letter accusing me of not being able to live with the original albitization value. I assured him that this was due to a mathematical error which was pointed out to me by another guy.

Secondly, he wanted me to contact Heinrich Holland about albitization. I have tried but have been unsuccessful as yet. I e-mailed him and have yet to receive a response. But I also contacted Karen Von Damm about the same issue. She informed me that it was difficult to get a global flux value for sodium but that it was definitely being removed at the ridges. As additional support for substantial sodium removal, she noted that the charge balance among the ions in the water must be conserved and that when sodium is removed, calcium is added. She also noted that albitization was widespread in the greenstone belts (ancient hydrothermal systems). That being said, based on a fluid in/fluid out compositional analysis, it is absolutely certain that sodium is being removed from the sea water, whatever the quantitative division into various processes doing the removing.

I also did some further research on albitization in ancient hydrothermal zones, like that of the Troodos Ophiolite in Cyprus. Gillis (2002) reports that albitic plagioclase is found in such sites. Figure 2 of that paper shows some photomicrographs with the caption:

“d. Pervasively altered gabbro, 20%-40% replacement of plagioclase by epidote, amphibole, and albitic plagioclase (sample KG92072).”

Now, Steve also claimed that the value I cited was far too much sodium to be removed. Indeed, Steve said it was ‘absurd’. So, I performed a calculation to test that assertion. There are 25 cubic kilometers of new basaltic crust added to the earth every year. There are 109 cubic meters per cubic kilometer so there are

25 x 109 cubic meters of new crust.

To calculate the mass of this rock, we need to multiply by 3000 kg/m3 which is the density of basalt. Thus there are:

75 x 1012 kg of new basalt added each year.

Dividing the 13 x 1010 kg of sodium by the 75 x 1012 kg of basalt, we find that the removed sodium consists of .0017 of the mass of basalt. This is a tiny number compared to the volume of new crust. It would be hard to claim that this small increase didn't occur. Furthermore the deepsea drilling program has recovered extensively altered basalts from site 1116 near the Moresby seamount. The report says 44 deg S 129 E:

“Basalts and dolerites are pervasively altered; the albitization of plagioclase (± chlorite ± calcite) and the replacement of olivine, glass, and, in part, pyroxene by phyllosilicates suggests spilitization as an alteration process. In Hole 1116A, prehnite veins cut dolerite clasts and plagioclase is altered to prehnite. More rarely, dolerite clasts are pervasively replaced by pumpellyite with minor prehnite. The marked green-yellow pleochroism of pumpellyite suggests Fe-rich composition.” (reference Internet 3 below)

I am going to include a calculation which Steve sent me on December 19th. I include it to show how he picks and chooses the values so that he can arrive at the correct answer for his position. In this calculation, Steve uses the shallowest penetration of hydrothermal waters and the largest (and erroneous) value for albitization. This is not the way one should work if he is interested in truth. Even though he had seen the web page with the present value of albitization (13 x 1010 kg/yr), he decided to ignore the present argument, set up a strawman and use in his calculation the value which had been in the original letter, the value which had been due to a mathematical error and which I had already corrected. His calculation went like this (always using whatever value favored his position:

Global production  of new oceanic crust         3 km3 (Gaffin, 1987, p.596-611)

times crustal thickness                         5 kilometers  So about 15 cubic

Equals                                          15 cubic km/yr or 15 billion cubic meters

The mass of the basalt is

15 x 109 m3/yr x 2.8 x 103 kg/m3 = 4200 x 1010 kg/yr

Here is where he makes two big mistakes. He says that hydrothermal activity is limited to the upper 2 km of the crust and he uses the old value of my albitization (which, as I noted, I had already changed, but he chose to ignore the change so that he could arrive at a more favorable conclusion for his position).

He then repeats the above calculation using 6 x 109 instead of 15 x 109 m3 yielding

1680 x 1010 kg/yr

Then using the value for albitization which had already been changed (from 34 x 1010 kg of sodium removed to 13 x 1010 kg) he calculated how much albite must be deposited. Albite is only 8.7% sodium by weight so

34 x 1010 /.087 = 395 x 1010 kg of albite.

If two years ago, I had not corrected the mathematical error which led to that 34 x 1010 value, Steve would have had a correct criticism because this mass represents 23% (395/1680) of the total weight of the new crust added each year.

However, repeating the calculation with the value which was on this web page on Dec. 19th shows:

13 x 1010 / .087 = 149 x 1010 kg of albite formed each year.

Is Steve correct that the circulation on the ridge only goes 2 km deep? No. If one speaks only of the ridge crest itself, circulation might only go 2 km deep. Water will circulate down to the depth where faults no longer can exist. This is where the heat changes the rock from brittle to ductile behavior. At that point, the pressure and heat will anneal the fault. As one moves away from the ridge this transition point gets deeper and so water will circulate deeper off crest than it did on crest.

In the picture below the ocean bottom (blue) is infiltrated by water which eventually becomes very hot (red) and water which heats only moderately during its course (green).The flow of the water following the green lines doesn't get as close to the magma chamber as the flow outlined in red. Both on crest and off crest there is a depth where the waters become very hot and so high temperature reactions can occur, only off crest, they occur deeper than on crest. Off crest, the extremely hot upwelling water mixes with more cool water and so comes to the surface at a cooler temperature than the high-temperature water at the ridge crest. Also, because there is more rock to travel through off crest, the circulation is slower. But the important item is that there will be a 350o C isotherm (line of constant temperature) which parallels the magma chamber. hydrothermal waters will be found all around the magma chamber below the 350oC isotherm.

Authorities in the field contradict what Steve says about the depth of hydrothermal circulation. This Fall at the University of Hawai'i their oceanography course, OCN 201 was teaching that the circulation went quite deep. Measures writes:

     “The depth to which the seawater penetrates below the seafloor is determined by the depth of the source of hot magma. By measuring the silica content of the hydrothermal fluid, it is possible to make some estimates of this depth. In some cases, this has been shown to be as deep as 5 km (3 miles) beneath the bottom of the ocean.”
     “The circulation of the seawater can also spread sideways into the older crust. The plates are spreading away from the center and so as you get further away from the ridge axis, the plates are getting older and colder. Some estimates suggest that the circulation may spread as far as 200 km (124 miles) on either side of the ridge axis.” (Internet 6)

Perhaps Steve should inform one of the premier oceanographic schools of their error!

Iceland's government could also benefit from Steve's knowledge. They sit atop the mid-Atlantic ridge and are preparing to drill a 5 km deep hydrothermal well. Why? because they know that the circulation goes deeper than Steve claims. (Internet 2) Keith Louden of Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia notes correctly that the width and depth of a convection cell must be identical. He says:

“ -observations of high-low heat flow allow us to examine length scales but complication is due to rugged topography. Can only make these observations at a very few ridge crests where larger sediment cover e.g. Galapagos Rift and Juan de Fuca

-convection cells have similar spatial and depth scales (ie Fig. 8C)

-Galapagos observations suggest length scale of 5-10 km Þ circulation throughout all oceanic crust (Figs 10-12)” (Internet 4)

Further evidence of deep circulation comes from earthquake data over the ridge. The caption on figure 2b says:

“The depths of circulation are inferred from considerable earthquake activity (Wilcock et al., 1999) directly beneath the axial valley to depths of nearly four kilometers below the seafloor.” (Internet 5)

So, dismissing this piece of data shopping, we can use 5 km for the circulation depth of the hydrothermal cell. Thus, to complete the repeat of Austin's calculation we find that we only need to have:

149/4200 = 3.5% albite to account for all the removal. However, as noted below, zeolite formation might very well play a bigger role than either Austin or I have previously suggested.

So, Steve is wrong when he claims that the above value for albitization is too large, just as he is wrong in trying to claim an old earth. Steve can't accept the demise of his favorite young-earth argument. Without it he might not have very many arguments for a young earth left.

    So, is there any evidence for this absorption being realistic? Yes, but it is difficult to pin down. The sodium content of basalts is highly variable. Primitive basalts are 1.15% sodium by weight (see note and the reference internet 1 below) more evolved basalts have has high as 1.9% sodium. However, some ophiolites show metamorphism and high percentages of sodium. The Longsheng ophiolite was hydrothermally altered and now contains 3.7% sodium.(Li, 1997)

Gillis' paper also discusses the abundant sodium containing zeolites which form at 100o-300o C. The paper points out that these are the last minerals to be deposited. Gillis writes:

“A variety of Ca Na zeolites, including laumontite, stibnite, analcite, and natrolite, were identified by x-ray diffraction. These zeolites are late-stage phases in fractures and fault breccias and locally replace leucocratic vein networks.” (Gillis 2002)

Zeolites are deposited late in the hydrothermal cycle and at lower temperatures. Shanks et al, 1995) write:

“Deeper in the upper oceanic crust, downward penetrating fluids may react with lavas and the upper sheeted dikes to produce zeolite-and greenschist-facies mineral assemblages at temperatures between 100-300o C.”

This is important because the third demand that Steve made was for me to use only the water flow which is higher than 350o C. which would then restrict the volume of water flowing through the crust and mathematically limit the water available for sodium removal. Steve forgets that there is sodium removal even at the lower temperature. As I said above in the post-script, the hard fact is that sodium is being removed from the hydrothermal waters. It doesn't matter to me if it is being removed by albitization or zeolite formation.

Within a few weeks there will be further revisions as a number of articles I have ordered come in.

2006 Comments

It was pointed out to me on an internet bulletin board that Russ Humphreys had criticized this page on AiG's website at (answersingenesis.org/home/area/feedback/2006/0331.asp)

The italizized part is what Humphreys says, my replies are interspersed.

No, Glen Morton is not at all correct on this, and sincere creationists can continue using sea sodium as an evidence for a young world. Morton showed you an early letter in his correspondence with Steve Austin and me, but not our replies. He also did not show you how he terminated the correspondence.

This is because they refused to grant me permission to publish their replies. Then they criticize me for not publishing their responses. Lets see if they criticize me for posting this.

Morton thinks the mineral albite would form permanently on the ocean floor, taking sodium out of seawater. But what happens is this: indeed albite forms in mid-ocean vents and takes sodium out of the high-temperature sea water. But then when the albite gets into cooler water, it decomposes into the mineral chlorite and releases the same amount of sodium back into the sea water. That is why albite (in any significant amounts) is found only at the mid-ocean ridges and nowhere else. So his “albite sink” would change into a “chlorite source”, and the net effect on sodium in the sea would be zero.

I note that Russ doesn't provide a reference for this. Albite is a volcanic mineral as well. It is NaAlSi3O8. It isn't very soluble in water, as is salt. And indeed it takes years to weather out of a rock. “Albite is the last of the feldspars to crystallize from molten rock” http://www.galleries.com/Albite

And when Russ says that at cooler temperatures in water it is dissolved, he is correct. But what he is NOT telling you and his readers is the RATE at which dissolution occurs. Here is the data

“Historically, dissolution rates have been measured indirectly using powdered materials. Rates from albite powders (pH 9, 80°C, Burch et al., 1993) correspond to a surface normal retreat velocity of 33.2 × 10-7 nm/sec. In vertical scanning interferometry, this rate is quantified by direct observation of the mineral surface. In our single crystal experiments under otherwise identical conditions, this velocity demands an overall change in surface height of 7.5 nm after 624 hours, if distributed homogeneously.” M. S. BEIG AND A. LUTTGE, “Albite dissolution kinetics: is it the pits?” Goldschmidt Conference Abstracts 2002 A63 (the-conference.com/2002/gold2002/abstracts/Authors_B.pdf)

At such a rate of dissolution, one would need 100 million hours for one meter worth of albite to dissolve. That is 13 million years. That is what Russ ISN'T telling you.

That may seem technical to you. So here is a non-technical way you can judge for yourself whether Morton is right or not: find out whether he has published his “albite sink” theory in a peer-reviewed secular geochemistry journal. The foremost one has the Latin title Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. Such journals would be overjoyed to publish his theory if it were correct, because it would solve the 75-year-old problem Steve and I pointed out, the great imbalance between ingoing and outgoing sodium. The secular science establishment would probably award Morton the Nobel Prize for it!

Russ is wrong. They don't give a Nobel for geology. But I would suggest asking Russ why they don't tell you the albite dissolution rate.

Moreover, Morton would be very proud to have his theory published in such a journal and would be sure to mention it prominently on his website. Let me know if you find such a citation there. If you don't, then you know Morton is blowing smoke at you.

If truth is determined by having a theory in a journal, I would ask where precisely is the journal article for Austin and Humphrey's claim that salt proves the earth is young? They have none. Maybe there is a bit of smoke blowing on their side, perchance?

Further References

  • Gaffin, 1987, American Journal of Science, p. 596-611
  • K. M. Gillis, “The Rootzone of an Ancient Hydrothermal System Exposed in the Toodos Ophiolite, Cyprus” Journal of Geology, 110(2002):57-74.
  • Erin Holmstad, “GEOCHEMICAL VARIATION OF THE HORSEPEN MOUNTAIN PLUTON WITHIN THE FRIES-ROCKFISH VALLEY DUCTILE DEFORMATION ZONE” Masters thesis (www.geol.vt.edu/research/gssrs/ms.html) accessed 1-1-02
  • Internet 1: (depthead.geol.usu.edu/G4500_PDF/45Week5_MORB.pdf) accessed 1-1-02
  • Internet 2: (www.os.is/IDDP/consortium.shtml) accessed 1-1-02
  • Internet 3: http://www-odp.tamu.edu/publications/180_SR/159/159_6.htm accessed 1-1-02
  • Internet 4: Keith Louden, (www.phys.ocean.dal.ca/~klouden/ocean5110/lect6.html) accessed 1-1-02
  • Internet 5: (ridge.oce.orst.edu/meetings/Integ_Studies/JdF_ISS_Prop_Fig2.pdf) Salty Dawg High Rise Main Endeavour Mothra 48 ° 00 2000 ...
  • Internet 6: Chris Measures, “OCN 201 Chemical Oceanography Class Notes, Fall 2001, Hydrothermal Vents on the Seafloor,” Univeristy of Hawai'i Department of Oceanography, (www.soest.hawaii.edu/oceanography/courses_html/OCN201/Chrisnotes/hyd_ho.pdf) accessed 1-2-02
  • Li, Xian-Hua, “Geochemistry of the Longsheng Ophiolite from the southern margin of Yangtze Craton, SE China”, Geochemical Journal, Vol. 31 (No. 5), pp. 323-337, 1997

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