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The North Sea Rocks Refute Young-earth Arguments

Copyright 2002 G.R. Morton. This can be freely distributed so long as no changes are made and no charges are made. (home.entouch.net/dmd/northseatime.htm)

Young-earth creationists claim that all the sediments on earth were deposited within a one year time frame. Geologists refute these claims but most young-earth advocates do not actually see some of the seismic data which supports what the geologists are saying, nor do they read very many geology books to understand the data of geology as it relates to the issue of the age of the earth. I have presented on these pages several arguments for an old earth. On this page I will present data from the North Sea which shows that things must have taken time.

Unconformities

Young-earth creationists have long struggled to understand how unconformities can form in the short time their flood models allow them. Unconformities are evidence of erosion between two strata and would take much time if the rocks were hard while they were being eroded. One such evidence of erosion can be seen in the seismic data of the Broad Fourteens Basin of the southern North Sea.

One approach to this issue is that taken by John Morris. He says:

      “The answer can't always be obtained in the local setting. But, the erosional episode, either the disconformity or the unconformity, can usually be traced laterally through the use of information from oil wells or other outcrops. This may take a lot of work, but as the layers and formations, which themselves may cover vast areas, are traced laterally, they will either pinch out into a zone where they were not deposited at all, or to an area where they were not tilted or eroded. in such cases, an erosional sequence can eventually be resolved into a conformable, continuous depositional sequence.” (John Morris, 1994, p. 105)

Morris hopes that by doing this he can eliminate the erosion time between the two sediments and claim that because there is a place where the sediments are conformable, therefore there is no time between them. In the first place, Morris' assertion that all erosional unconformities lead to conformities, is simply wrong. Quirk and Aitken write:

  “Subsidence continued during the early Tertiary when a thick succession of fine-grained marine sediments was deposited. However, a significant period of inversion occurred during the early Miocene and led to the formation of a major unconformity which intersects the present UK land surface farther west.” (Quirk and Aitken, 1997, p. 145)

Secondly, even unconformities which become conformable show evidence of tectonic movements during the time in which the unconformity was forming. This movement simply can't be explained really as the result of a rapid tectonic event. In the Cretaceous strata above (green) one can see that it is thickest in the syncline (where the double arrow is) and that the sediment thins a bit towards the left (thinning means that the sediment is a bit thinner--i. e. less thick). But the underlying Jurassic (upper yellow) does exactly the opposite. it is thinnest where the double arrow is and thickest to the left of that point. This relationship has tremendous implications for the length of time it takes for this unconformity to form.

The thin area of the Jurassic sediment shows that this area was originally the top of a hill. Sediment always deposits thicker in the valleys than it does on top of a hill. What caused the hill? Triassic salt. There used to be a mound of Triassic salt between the Triassic (red) and Jurassic (upper yellow). Salt is mobile and was squeezed out of that area causing the Jurassic hill to become a valley by the time the Cretaceous (green) sediment was deposited. What had been a valley in Jurassic time became a hill by Cretaceous time. While that hill was rising, it was also being eroded. The amount of eroded sediment is shown in the following picture:

All of this activity, the tectonic motion, the erosion, the faulting all occurred PRIOR to the deposition of the horizontal Tertiary sediment. Notice that the faults (the black lines) terminate at the unconformable surface. They terminate there because they didn't move after the end of the Cretaceous Era. If the sediment was the result of a single year of massive tectonic activity and massive sedimentation event, why do the faults ALL suddenly cease moving on exactly the same day? That is very unlikely.

One other indication of time, which can't be seen in seismic data but can be seen in cores taken from oil wells drilled into the sediments are the burrows. A core is a cylinder of rock which is cut out of the rock while the well is drilled. These cores show much evidence of burrows which would require much time to explain. The cases I will present are from the Jurassic.

The Upper Jurassic Ula Formation and Fulmar formation contain Thalassinoides burros. Some of these burrows have encrusted shells and serpulid worms washed into the open burrows. The Jurassic Ror Formation contains burrows of Skolithos, Chondrites, Anconichnus, Planolites, Teichnichnus and Palaeophycus burrows. The base of the Broom Formation (the bottom of the Brent Group) contains Planolites burrows which have a pyrite fill. Only the burrow has the pyrite fill. It must have been deposited during the time the burrow was open, thus indicating a certain amount of time in the deposition of the pyrite. (Taylor and Gawthorpe, 1993, p. 324) Some of the burrows found in the Brent Group have dynocysts in the walls of the burrows showing that the burrow was open to marine conditions. (Taylor and Gawthorpe, 1993, p. 321-322).

That these burrows took time and were not escape structures as many young-earth creationists believe can be demonstrated by what is found to line the burrows:

“Typical dwelling traces include: Skolithos (a simple, unpaired pipe), Ophiomorpha (lined with faecal pellets - which determine a nodular outer surface to the burrow - usually associated with crustaceans), Teredolites (bivalve borings cut into driftwood), and Gastrochaenolites (bivalve borings cut into firm or rock substrates).” (www.ucl.ac.uk/geolsci/edu/ugrads/image/fieldtrips/TraceFossils/morph.htm) accessed 9-21-02.

Below is a picture of such a burrow taken from Martin and Pollard (1996, Fig 6D, p. 176). It would take time for the animal to deposit that much excrement along his burrow's wall. This was not an animal trying to escape burial but an animal taking his time feeding.

Above I have shown two unconformities, the one at the top of the Carboniferous and the one at the top of the Cretaceous. Other areas of the North sea show other regions with two unconformities.

In the above, the sequence of events is as follows. The Lower Middle Carboniferous strata were laid down relatively flat and then uplifted where indicated. The sediments were then planed off flat along the lower unconformity. After that, more sediments were laid down flat (the Upper Middle Carboniferous. Then at least 800 meters (2400 feet) of sediment were eroded and the land was tilted in such a fashion that the upper unconformity was flat. We know this because the Rotliegend formation does not vary in thickness across the seismic section. They were laid down on a flat surface. If they hadn't been, like the Broad Fourteens Basin data, we would see thickening of the sediment. Above the Rotliegend, the Zechstein was laid down. Both unconformities require time. Time for the sediments to be laid down, time for the sediments to be tilted, time for the sediments to be eroded.

Many of these unconformities found in British rocks contain features which absolutely make it impossible for them to have been created instantly as the young-earth position requires. This is from a UK creationist (Robinson, 1996, p. 61)

“The oyster bed at the unconformity between Carboniferous limestone and Jurassic oolite in Somerset has already been mentioned. The oysters--at least two generations of them---grew in situ, for they are cemented to the hardground in life, and the contours of their shells are adapted to those adjacent.”

It is decidedly unlikely for oysters to be transported by a global flood and deposited back on top of the same oyster he lived on in the pre-flood world. One must remember that the unconformity Robinson is speaking of is halfway up the geologic column, or half way through the supposed global flood. Robinson further says (1996, p. 61)

“The example from Somerset is far from unique. Fursich studied 36 hardgrounds and related phenomena from Jurassic localities (mostly Middle Jurassic) in England, France, Germany and Poland, the development of which--taken together--must have required many years to develop.”

Why doesn't Ken Ham and other Answers in Genesis leaders tell this to their followers? It was published in Creation Ex Nihilo Technical Journal, a journal with which their organization is closely affiliated. It seems terribly inconsistent for them to claim a one year flood when their own journal publishes differently.

Landslides and tectonic movements as unconformable events

There is a unique type of unconformity in the North Sea and it consists of landslides which occurred during the Jurassic rifting which formed the Viking Graben. Remember that thin sediments are deposited on topographically high regions and thick sediments are deposited in topographic lows. This is illustrated below:

In tilted blocks the deposited sediment will thin towards the high. We see this in the northern North Sea. Lee and Hwang (1993, p. 1142) note:

“It is now well known that rifting in the Northern North Sea commenced during the early Triassic, peaked during the late Jurassic, and terminated by the late Cretaceous.”

As the rifting occurred, earthquakes were going on. These eventually caused the cliffs to collapse in landslides as shown below.

We see these features in the northern North Sea. Here is a map of the Brent province taken from Lee and Hwang, 1993, p. 1141.

One can see the thinning of the sediments towards the high part of the arrowed block (the blocks almost all fault down to the east). This thinning shows that the rock motion was taking place while the Kimmeridge was being deposited. The Kimmeridge is a shale, and shales can only be deposited very slowly because of the particle size. It takes 50 to 100 years for shale particles to fall to the bottom of the sea. This particular shale is the source rock for 68% of the oil in the North Sea. It has preserved up to 10% organic carbon and this can only happen if the waters are very still and devoid of oxygen. A global flood would stir oxygen throughout the water column making it difficult to preserve this much organic carbon.

The shaded areas are the landslides. The landslides occurred after the Kimmeridge shale was deposited but before the beginning of the Cretaceous deposition. This indication of time is never spoken of by young-earth creationists.

Desert Deposits

  Another indication of much time in the rocks of the UK consist of the desert deposits of the Rotliegend. Many young earth creationists claim that desert deposits don't exist. They have to say this because it is impossible to conceive of a global deluge depositing desert deposits. Henry and John Morris write:

“Finally, Young cites desert formations as contradicting the flood model, though he says little about them. If real desert-formed features do exist in the deeper geologic deposits, this could indeed be a problem for the Biblical model since the antediluvian environment was said by God to be all ‘very good’ and the future promised restoration of these to good conditions to the earth includes desert reclamation (e.g., Isaiah 35).” (Morris and Morris,1989, p. 37)

Leonard Brand (1997, p. 69), a creationist, writes:

“When I began to study the fossil vertebrate trackways in this formation, I had doubts about the desert-dune origin of the tracks, initially for philosophical reasons, and set out to evaluate alternate hypotheses for formation of the tracks.”

Those philosophical reasons are that there had to be a global flood, something his religion requires. This is clearly a case of letting one's preconceptions drive one's science.

And creationist Higley (1940, p. 108) writes (showing how old this idea is):

  “Neither the desert nor the swamp could have existed in the reconstruction, because they would not have served the purpose of supporting life in the best way. Besides, it is called simply ‘dry land.’ It is all designated by the same term. Hence it must have been essentially the same.”

Sediments are interpreted as being from a desert because they show the same sequence of lithologies and sedimentological features as those found in modern deserts (see Hunter, 1977, p. 384-385). The Rotliegend, mentioned above, is a perfect example of a desert deposit. Ruffell and Shelton (2000, p. 305) write:

“Sand deposition was either fluvial-lacustrine in areas adjacent to the uplands or aeolian on upland intermontaine basins and in the broad basins of the Southern North Sea. Such sands (e.g. Rotliegendes) display the classic features of desert sedimentation, including millet-seed quartz grains with iron-manganese oxide desert coating and preserved dune-forms.”

There are 600 feet of desert sand deposited in the Sole Pit area of the southern North Sea (George and Berry, 1997, p. 34)

The need for time shows itself in the fact that there are multiple salt beds in the Rotliegend formation. Glennie writes (1997, p. 6)

“Because basin-centre subsidence proceeded more rapidly than sedimentation, a major saline desert lake occupied the basin centre. Climatic changes, controlled by changes in the size of the Gondwana ice cap, caused cyclicity in sedimentation which, in addition to repeated halite sequences, can also be recognised in basin margin sequences.”

George and Berry (1997, p. 37) report 13 different salt beds in the 1000 m thick section. Each salt bed has sediment in between it and the next one. How on earth is a flood geologist to account for this? Salt shouldn't be deposited during a global flood, yet here we have 13 different salt beds deposited. George and Berry (1997, p. 39) write:

“Thickness data suggest that the cycles from the basin centre that contain relatively thick halite horizons (Fig. 6, Units 2 & 3, 41 m and 31 m respectively) are thinner than those composed entirely of claystones (Fig. 6 Units 4 & 5, 91 m and 102 m respectively). This would imply that the accumulation rate of halite. Published estimates for the rates of precipitation of halite vary from 5 to 140 mm a-1 (500 to 14 000 cm ka-1) (Sonnefeld 1984) but periodic dissolution could result in much lower halite preservation rates of 0.1-4.0 mm a-1 (10-400 cm ka-1) (Barnett & Shaw 1983).”

How much salt water must have been evaporated above this well in order to deposit that much salt? Dean (1978 p. 81) notes:

“Second, the data in table 4.2 indicate how much water must have been evaporated to produce an evaporite deposit 1,000 m thick. For example, complete evaporation of the World's oceans would produce a layer of salts about 6 m thick (total volume about 2 X 1010 km3) with a NaCl:CaSO4 of 31:1. By contrast, the evaporites in the Permian Zechstein basin are more than 600 m thick, with a total volume of more than 2 X 109 Km3 and a NaCl:CaSO4 of about 5:1 (Borcher and Muir, 1964). Ryan (1976) estimates that the upper Miocene evaporites in the Mediterranean basins contain more than 106 Km3 of evaporites deposited within about two million years. Clearly a major portion of the World's oceans must have been evaporated to produce the giant evaporite deposits of the past.”

Since salt isn't deposited during floods but only during dry spells, it seems to me that the Rotliegendes with it salt is clearly the result of a dry episode and thus represents a desert. Contrary to what many young-earth creationists content, desert deposits really exist and they disprove the global flood concept entirely.

Volcanic eruptions

The early Tertiary was a time when the Atlantic Ocean was being formed. Europe and North America were slowly separating. As would be expected, such an event would cause many volcanoes. Volcanoes, when they erupt, send out vast quantities of ash into the atmosphere. This ash then comes to earth and settles in the seas. If you are close enough to a volcano quite a layer of ash can be deposited. Volcanoes don't erupt constantly. There are periods of time between the eruptions. Today only 40 volcanoes erupt on average every year.

What do we find in the sediments of the North Sea? Evidence of thousands of individual volcanic eruptions.. Anderton (2000, p. 383) writes:

“The Balder Formation is also important in that it records the most intense phase of volcanic activity seen in the North Sea. In the lower part of the unit there are hundreds of individual ash layers, mostly only millimeters to centimetres thick but forming a total thickness of over 8 m at the northern end of the North Sea Basin, and known informally as the Balder Tuff. This ash unit is an important marker throughout the North Sea as it produces a distinctive gamma or sonic bow on well logs. The total ash thickness declines toward the south-east, but ashes are found as far away as southern England, Germany and Denmark. The ashes are of Theoleiitic-basalt composition and were probably erupted from a large volcano, somewhere along the North Atlantic rift, north-west of Britain.”

Dating of cementation event

  The aeolian sands were deposited with very little clay. Microscopic analysis of the Rotliegend sand shows that there is very little illite (clay mineral) in the form of deposited particles. All the illite is precipitated in the space between the sand grains in the form of whiskers of illite (see G. P. Leveille et al, 2000, p. 111 for a picture). When an aeolian sand is deposited without clay, the illite doesn't grow until the sand has been buried deep enough for the subsurface fluid to enable the proper chemical reactions. One can date the time of the growth of the illite cement by radioactive dating. In the case of the Rotliegend sand, the illite dates to around 150 million years ago. Leveille et al (1997a, p. 111) say:

     “K-Ar dating of authigenic illite was done on 39 samples from the eight wells included in the diagenetic study in order to determine the timing of illite formation. Separation and analysis techniques utilized were broadly similar to those described by Robinson et al (1993) and were designed to avoid contamination with other potassium-bearing minerals. All of the ages determined lie in the range from 177 to 122 Ma (Mid-Jurassic to Early Cretaceous), except for two analyses from the 49/16-4 well which gave ages of 88 and 104 Ma (Early to Late Cretaceous).”

As I said, in order for the illite to form, the sediment must be buried deeply enough, which means it has to be heated as well. If you study the sediment for chemical changes caused by this heating, you find that the Rotliegendes was buried deep enough to be heated to around 110 degrees centigrade. This occurred while the 125 million year old Cretaceous sediments were being deposited above the Rotliegendes. Thus the illite cement was being deposited about the time of the deepest burial the Rot experienced.

These two pieces of evidence support the concept that it took a long time for the North Sea sediments to be deposited. Heat doesn't flow through sediment very rapidly. Indeed it can take 50,000 or more years to heat sediments up to that temperature. The fact that the Rotliegend was heated that much, shows that it took a long, long time for the sedimentary column to be deposited.

Relict Oil fields

Another indication of age in the North Sea sedimentary record concerns the existence of old oil fields. An oil field is formed when it oil migrates into a trap region. It takes time for the oil to form and be expelled from the source rocks. In the North Sea the source rock is the Kimmeridge claystone which has as much as 10% organic matter. The oil will only form when the Kimmeridge is buried to a sufficient depth (and thus heated to sufficient temperature). Thus, it takes time to bury the Kimmeridge and to heat it so that the oil will form. And then the oil, once expelled from the Kimmeridge, must travel a tortuous path through the rock. It will eventually leak to the surface and into the ocean unless it encounters an impermeable rock which prevents its escape. Then it will fill up all the porous space in the rock and form an oil field.

Creationists claim that oil will leak in a few thousand years from an oil trap. Kohfahl (1977, p. 122-123) claims:

“Petroleum and natural gas are held at high pressures in underground reservoirs of porous rock and sand. These fluids are retained in their reservoirs by relatively impermeable cap rock. However, in many cases the pressures are exceedingly high. Calculations based on the measured permeability of the cap rock show that the oil or gas pressure could not be maintained for much longer than 10,000 years or perhaps a maximum of 100,000 years (permeability is a measure of how easily fluids under pressure will seep through the rock.) If these fossil fuel deposits were actually millions or hundreds of millions of years old, they would long ago have leaked out through their cap rock to the surface.”

Like many things creationists claim, this too is based on a misunderstanding of what traps oil. Low permeability is not the reason oil fields form. Capillary pressure is what holds the oil in a trap and it can hold the oil for millions upon millions of years. The only time oil leaks out of a field is when the pore throats are big enough to reduce the capillary pressure. In the North Sea, Leveille et al (1997b, p. 88) relates:

     “The petrophysical properties of fault rocks encountered in the depth range of most oil and gas reservoirs are largely determined by the amount of cementation, mechanical grain rearrangement, grain fracturing, frictional grainboundary sliding, and cataclastic flow that has occurred. These processes control pore sizes and pore geometries, and thereby determine the porosity, permeability and sealing capacity (i.e. capillary pressure) of fault rocks.”

What we find in the North Sea is that fields formed and then had time for the sediment to be eroded. In the Castleton area of England we find the following:

     “The abundance and variety of residual oil shows in the Castleton area suggest that, before the removal of the Namurian cover, the shelf margin crest and the northwards inclined shelf margin succession could have hosted a significant oil accumulation. The elaterite of Windy Knoll to the west of Castleton provides the best exposure of a residual oil body. Windy Knoll forms a small culmination on the ridge crest that was previously completely top and side sealed by the Edale Shale Formation. Our field work suggests that the base of the elaterite defines a residual oil-water contact (OWC). Bitumen impregnation in limestone breccias below the OWC may indicate the charge pathway. These breccias were found by Peacock & Taylor (1966) to be radioactive. If the bitumen and uranium are genetically associated, an indication of the area formerly open to oil migration is provided by Peacock & Taylor's map of surface uranium anomalies. Radioactive anomalies occupy the entire 6000 m long, 500 m wide and 150 m high exposed portion of the slope to the south of the anomalies persist in depth. They illustrate samples of bituminous calcite and uraniferous phosphatic limestone collected from caves in the Castleton area.” (Cameron and Ziegler, 1997, p. 138). [OWC is oil-water contact--grm]

The amount of time required for the Kimmeridge to be buried, to be heated so it could form oil, for the oil to migrate into a trap in the Castleton area, and then the time for the erosion to remove the sedimentary cover and release the oil must be considerable. Young-earth creationists never tell you about these kinds of features. They suppress the truth in unrighteousness, as the Bible says. (Romans 1)

Even in the subsurface we find oil fields that formed but then leaked. They are very rare and it is not often we find such things, but here is what we find in the Rotliegendes (Leveille et al, 1997a, p. 118):

“Gas was almost certainly the primary hydrocarbon phase to fill the early formed traps because of the overwhelming volume of gas prone source rocks present in the underlying Carboniferous section. Residual oil staining does, however, suggest some oil may also have been generated. The residual oil staining typically occurs in dark brown bands and is interpreted to have formed from oil rims on early gas accumulations.”

Erosion of the Scottish Highlands.

I currently live in an area which, geologically, is the Scottish Highlands. About 15 miles south of my house in Peterculter, Scotland is the Highland boundary fault. This fault marks the southern edge of the former Laurentian continent, most of which now constitutes North America. The area north of the Highland Boundary Fault was split off from North America during the early Tertiary. Woodcock and Strachan (2000, p. 194) state:

“Many of the faults have a long history. The Highland Boundary Fault, for example, may originally have defined the south-east limit of rifted Laurentian crust during the Neoproterozoic development of Iapetus. It was later transformed into a collisional suture by accretion of the Midland Valley basement and arc during the Grampian Orogeny.”

The terrane in the Scottish highlands consists of igneous rocks. Very little sedimentary rock, save the Devonian Old Red Sandstone, exists north of the fault. This terrane is among the oldest terranes in the world. And these rocks are hard.

Traveling through western Scotland one can see some incredible scenery, tall mountains and thundering waterfalls. Looking at the waterfalls, which have water constantly pouring over them, one is struck by how little the water has eroded these rocks. Eon upon eon, these rocks have been assaulted by the water, and yet the water has carved less than 2 meters into some of the cliffs. The reason for this is the hardness of these rocks. This land has been eroded so long that tens of kilometers of rock have been removed from it. In extreme NW Scotland we find this (Strachan 2000, p. 49)

     “In the area between Scourie and Gruinard Bay, deformation was associated with granulite facies metamorphism and formation of anhydrous orthopyroxene-quartz-feldspar assemblages. Metamorphism occurred at temperatures of 950-1000o C and pressures of 11-15 kbar, corresponding to crustal depths of 35-50 km. Pb-Pb dating of monazite inclusions in early formed garnets suggest that high grade metamorphism occurred at c. 2.76 Ga.”

This is 1.4 x 10-5 m/year erosion over that area. These rocks are very, very hard but they clearly show that billions of years have elapsed in the history of the world. Young earth arguments never mention the issues we have discussed here. Indeed, young-earth leaders never, ever tell their followers these things. As I said, they suppress the truth in unrighteousness.

References

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  • Brand, Leonard, 1997, Faith, Reason, and Earth History, (Berrien Springs: Andrews University Press)
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  • Leveille, Gregory P. et al. 1997b. “Compartmentalization of Rotliegendes Gas Reservoirs by Sealing Faults, Jupiter fields Area, Southern North Sea,” in K. Ziegler, P. Turner and S. R. Daines, ed. Petroleum Geology of the Southern North Sea: Future Potential, Geological Society Special Publication 123 (London: Geological Society), pp 87-104.
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