This article is from Creation 41(4):44–47, October 2019. Since 1837, when Louis Agassiz (1801–1873) first presented evidence for the Ice Age, secular scientists have been mystified. Why did it start? What caused it to stop? Over the years, creation scientists have realised that the unusual conditions created on the earth by the global Flood described in Genesis caused the Ice Age. And they have developed a powerful model that answers questions surrounding it.1 Table 1 presents the three requirements that must be met before an ice age can develop. These conditions existed immediately after the global Flood.
The cooler summers needed were caused by abundant volcanism and meteorite impacts during the Flood, which filled the stratosphere with very small particles that reflected some of the sunlight back to space. This volcanism has left evidence in the geological record. Secular scientists have estimated the effect of small particles high in the stratosphere by studying an impact in southern Mexico. They found it cooled global mean temperatures by more than 27°C (49°F) for about 30 years,2,3 and this was just one large impact. The net result of volcanism during the Flood would be a quick start to the Ice Age immediately after the Flood, especially in susceptible areas such as central Canada, and in high mountains of the mid and high latitudes. As the quantity of snow built up, the geographical area covered by the ice increased. The ice sheets did not have to physically move from the higher latitudes.
Ongoing volcanism prolongs cooling
With time, these small volcanic particles would slowly sink out of the stratosphere. However, copious post-Flood volcanism would replenish them, allowing the cooler summers to persist for many years. Ice Age expert J.K. Charlesworth writes: “…signs of Pleistocene [Ice Age] volcanicity and earth movements are visible in all parts of the world.”4
The Ice Age portion of Greenland ice cores shows evidence of 1,927 volcanic events recorded in the ice sheet.5 There are 700 stratovolcanoes on Earth (figure 2), and these cones would mostly represent post-Flood volcanism.
Data from eruptions during the past 2,000 years reveals that a single eruption can cause global and/or regional cooling of around 0.5 to 2.5°C (1 to 4.5°F) for several years. Some eruptions during the post-Flood Ice Age were much larger than eruptions in historical times. The great Toba, Sumatra, eruption is believed to have cooled global climate 3.5°C (6.3°F) for 9 to 10 years,6 with some estimates much greater.
As a result of these eruptions the land would have cooled much faster than the oceans, especially lowering the mean temperature of the summers. The oceans would lose their heat mainly through evaporation. This heat loss would occur much more slowly than that of the atmosphere. The cool land and warm oceans would create the ideal conditions for a rapid ice age.
Warm oceans supply the moisture The warm ocean provided the abundant moisture essential for the Ice Age. Evaporation is linked to sea surface temperature. After the global Flood, ocean temperatures would have been much warmer than they are today mainly due to the enormous volcanism during the Flood, when “all the fountains of the great deep burst forth” (Genesis 7:11). This is consistent with much super heated underground water as well as lava from the enormous volcanism pouring into the ocean, as seen in the geologic record.
The greatest warming compared with today’s oceans would have been at the mid and high latitudes. The Arctic Ocean would have been warm and ice-free with strong evaporation, generating high rates of precipitation. Snowstorm after snowstorm would have dropped their loads on land where eventually large ice sheets developed. The lower latitudes also had a higher rate of precipitation during this time, expressed as much higher rainfall, including in areas that are now extremely dry.
The Ice Age would persist until the oceans cooled and the post-Flood volcanism decreased, after which it would wane. The Ice Age was roughly 700 years long, taking some 500 years to build and 200 years to wane—40,000 or 100,000 years are not needed for an ice age.
Short timescale—key to mystery Concerning volcanism, secular scientists recognise that large volcanoes cool the climate for several years. If these Ice Age volcanoes were spread out over tens of thousands or more years, each volcanic eruption would have an insignificant effect on long-term cooling. However, if we telescope all these volcanic eruptions into several hundred years, volcanism provides the powerful cooling mechanism for the Ice Age. The short timescale the Bible sets out is not a side issue, but key to solving what to secular scientists has remained a mystery for the past 200 years—the cause of even one ice age.
The creationist post-Flood Ice Age differs greatly from the ice age envisioned by secular scientists. They postulate very cold, dry winters, but in the biblical model the winters would be much warmer and wetter than today, especially during the early- and mid-part of the Ice Age. This warmth would come from two processes unique to the climate effects of the Flood. The first is the heating of oceanic air by contact with the warmer ocean. This warmer air would produce a warm onshore air flow, especially in western North America and western Europe. Onshore flow today is the reason why western Washington, USA, is much warmer in winter than the interior of the United States at the same latitude. As a result of this onshore air flow, the Ice Age would be delayed in western North America and western Europe, except for the high mountains.
Second, when water vapour condenses and precipitates, it releases much heat to the atmosphere. This would be especially significant in storms, which would be strongest in winter at mid and high latitudes. This winter heat would spread all over the earth. Warmer, wetter, winters would produce much more rain and snow, since the warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold (figure 3).
Solving Ice Age mysteries The unique biblical Ice Age model solves the stubborn mysteries of earth science that secular scientists have been wrestling with for some 200 years. The Genesis Flood explains why the Ice Age began, why it stopped, and how it took only hundreds of years, not hundreds of thousands. The Ice Age model solves other mysteries such as the life and death of the woolly mammoth in Siberia, Alaska, and Canada’s Yukon Territory; the end-Ice-Age mass extinction of animals; the mix of warm and cold-climate animals and plants; and why today’s dry areas (e.g. the Sahara, Central Australia) were once well-watered. These will be dealt with in later articles.
What about the other Ice Ages? Secular scientists say that the first ice age began more than two billion years ago and envisage there were five main ice age periods (see table). Each of these are thought to have lasted from a few million to hundreds of millions of years. The last major ice age period is called the Pleistocene and is currently divided into 50 glaciations of variable intensities, each of which are said to have cycled every 40,000 or 100,000 years in the past 2.6 million years.1 These numerous glacial/interglacial cycles are deductions from the astronomical or Milankovitch theory of the ice ages. Creationist scientists generally maintain that the theory is incapable of explaining even one ice age. They agree with secular scientists, however, that the last of the Pleistocene ice ages is real.2 The claimed earlier 49 ‘ice ages’, which creation scientists maintain did not happen, are mainly based on speculative interpretations of oscillations of certain variables in deep-sea sediment cores.
Not ancient ‘ice ages’ but huge landslides during the Flood Secularists infer the four oldest alleged ice age periods (‘ancient ice ages’ to distinguish them from the recent Ice Age that followed Noah’s Flood) from features in sedimentary rocks similar to those in glaciated areas. One problem is that these sorts of features are not always caused by glaciers. Another major flaw in this ‘glacial’ interpretation is that the rocks are found near the equator, and more disastrously, they were formed below sea level. So, secular scientists are forced to postulate that Earth was totally glaciated at least twice! This so-called ‘snowball Earth’ hypothesis4 is scientifically implausible because it would be almost impossible to melt the ice and snow because of the reflection of the sunlight back to space. An alternative, more logical explanation is that the features are from widespread underwater landslides, which would have been common during the Flood.5,6