Ice Core Dating

Posted by Don Keyes on September 03, 1998 at 22:58:20:

Do you know if ice core dating is accurate. I heard that Antarctica had ice rings like tree rings that go back 50,000 years undisturbed by a flood. If it is challenged do you know on what basis.

First Response


from SeeJay

These seasonal layers can be counted.

An ice core of over 2km in length has been drilled and carefully analysed. Yes, the number of layers indicates many tens of thousands of years.


Second Response

from gallo

I spent a year in Greenland (Thule) and went up onto the cap a few times. While there I had the opportunity to talk to a team of scientists who were loading supplies in order to head back out onto the cap. They were taking ice cores. They said that they were working in an area where the ice was about 9,000 ft. thick. I mentioned that I was amazed that the ice went up that far. He said that it didn't but that the weight of the ice actually depressed the land. I have since learned that this is called isostasy. At any rate, he talked about the seasonal layers in the ice. These layers can be counted only so far down because the weight of the ice compresses the layers more and more the deeper they are in the ice. Still, there are other means to study the composition of the ice that makes it possible to recognize the seasonal layering. I understand that the age of the ice at Camp Century (very near to where I was) is over 100,000 y. The ice at Camp Century isn't even half the thickness at the center of the cap.

I saw these layers first hand inside some ice caves in the cap. While I didn't count 4,000 layers, I could see several hundred. In my view it just isn't reasonable to claim that all of that ice was laid down in just a few years after the flood.


Third Response

From Helen

Gallo was right when he mentioned that compression would destroy the "rings." I believe some dating of ice cores is done via a O16/O14 ratio, but I am not sure. That ratio may be good only to indicate the climate at the time of snowfall.

At any rate, the main challenge I am aware of to standard ice core dating has to do with the fact that we really don't know if layers before known time were caused by many different storms in a few years or one season layering a year. We know what we see now, and many extrapolate backwards from that. However in the years following the flood (according to some creationist geologists and meteorologists) and/or in the time of Peleg (according to others), the oceans would have been warm enough to result in rapid evaporation, while the newly established air currents would have carried these massive amounts of evaporation towards the poles where storm after storm would have dumped not only most of what we see today but enough to result in an ice age.

In 1994 a couple of papers were presented at the International Conference on Creationism dealing with this subject: An Analytical Young-Earth Flow Model of the Ice Sheet Formation During the "Ice-Age," by Larry Vardiman, Ph.D.; and A Conceptual Transition Model of the Atmospheric Global Circulation Following the Genesis Flood, also by Vardiman. Also of note that year, and along lines of explanation was the presentation Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History, by Kurt Wise, Ph.D., Steven Austin, Ph.D., John Baumgardner, Ph.D., D. Russell Humphreys, Ph.D., Andrew Snelling, Ph.D., and Larry Vardiman, Ph.D.

Response to Helen

from Joe Meert

It amazes me that you feel freely qualified to propose answers to questions where you aren't. Please explain in more detail about oxygen isotopic record. None of the authors you mention have had any training in stable isotopes, so there word is as good as yours.

Response to Joe

from Helen

What I remember reading about isotopes of oxygen did not come from those articles, but from a discussion over a year ago, I think, with some other people -- teachers. That is why I felt pretty hesitant about it. It's not worth you jumping on, really. What little I remember had to do with the idea that a heavier isotope -- 18O -- would evaporate more slowly than a lighter one and thus a ratio could establish climatary differences during the time of the snowfalls. If I am wrong in what I remember, just say so.

Response to Helen

from Joe Meert

The isotopic composition of both oxygen and hydrogen deposited at the polar regions is primarily a function of temperature. The oxygen isotopes in ice cores are used to date the cores due to the seasonal variations.

One looks for summer layers (for example) as a function of depth. From that one can examine such things as precipitation and overall climatic change. There are complications and Tom Moore is probably better at describing these to you than I am, but basically you are looking at seasonal variations.


Response to Helen

from gallo

Just smoke, Helen.

It is known that the ice layers represent annual snows down to a certain level. There is nothing that distinguishes the layers below that from the ones above. So your conclusion is that since it isn't known for sure, it is reasonable to assume that the ice layers are somehow formed differently because your Bible tells you so. At any rate, the story invented to make the mythology of the Bible seem reasonable requires that you claim different causes.

There is no evidence that the ice layers going down for several thousand years were formed for any other reasons than those we know to be in effect today. To assume, without evidence, that any other cause is reasonable, is irrational at best. "It cudda been" isn't science, Helen. Besides, I doubt that you can cram 100,000 storms into 4000 years. Your whole story is nothing more than imagination.

Response to gallo

from Helen

"It cudda been."

This is what I hear mostly from evolutionists, gallo -- especially in regard to transitionals...:-)
In the meantime, there is nothing unscientific about looking for other explanations, biblical or not. Science does that all the time, right?

Reply to Helen

from gallo

It is unscientific when you propose those other explanations without evidence. As far as science is concerned, they are meaningless. In other words, pseudoscience.

Response from Helen: there goes evolution......(nt) Helen 14:12:56 9/04/98 (1)



Ice Core Dating

Posted by Helen on September 04, 1998 at 18:53:36:

Joe said he would explain to me about oxygen isotopes if I answered him about why I posted something the way I did. So I responded, and he posted his explanation. Some background here, because I want to continue the questions regarding this subject:

I had heard the theory/idea some time ago that O16 and O14 could be checked in relationship to each other in ice core samples to check temperature and climate conditions at the time of the snowfall. I had also thought that dating was mentioned in regard to this. I mentioned this in a response to someone interested in ice cores further down and Joe promptly jumped on it, telling me I should not post what I did not know about. So I asked him to explain to me what I said was wrong or what was right. This is his answer:

The isotopic composition of both oxygen and hydrogen deposited at the polar regions is primarily a function of temperature. The oxygen isotopes in ice cores are used to date the cores due to the seasonal variations.
One looks for summer layers (for example) as a function of depth. From that one can examine such things as precipitation and overall climatic change.
There are complications and Tom Moore is probably better at describing these to you than I am, but basically you are looking at seasonal variations.

So, first of all, my memory had served me right and there was no reason to jump on my post regarding that. But that aside, if it is possible for anyone here to walk in my shoes for just a bit, let me ask some questions from a YEC point of view:

Understanding that it takes FAR more snowfall than present to establish the ice caps, and understanding that it also requires warmer water to evaporate faster if not also a generally warmer climate to hold that evaporated water until air currents reached the poles, isn't it wrong to extrapolate backwards just from what we see today?

If it is possible that the world was different then from what we know today, then what would have happened post Flood or at the time of Peleg, when there are good reasons to think the ocean waters somewhat warmer than now, as well as the atmosphere? If either catastrophe disturbed the climatic patterns of the world very much (and one would presume that they would), then many storms of varying intensities AND temperatures would have arrived over the poles in rapid succession. It seems to me that this would produce the same things we see in the ice cores that are now attributed to a long series of unchanging seasons.

Now, guys, I have spent a lot of time working on posts discussing evolutionism seriously in the past, especially in regards to mutations, etc. Agree or disagree, you have to admit the time on my part! So I am asking for time now from you. Not mocking, not throwing stuff up in the air and laughing about it -- but the time to think some of this through. Yes, I will try to find out more as we go and different things are brought up, if they are, but for now, at first, why wouldn't this be an acceptable model to work with theoretically?


from Dire Puppy

Antarctic Ice Cores


Response to Dire Puppy

Posted by Helen on September 05, 1998 at 23:42:17:

I have reproduced the article here so that I can respond to it in context. First of all, thank you for the link to it.
Before I begin, I want to mention that the dating and the article are done with the presupposition of both long ages and not only uniformitarianism but gradualism. Understanding that I do not accept these presuppositions and will be looking at the evidence presented from the standpoint of recent creation and catastrophic interruptions in history, I will approach the article from a "devil's advocate" point of view as far as evolutionists are concerned. The quoted article is in italics.

Antarctica is the coldest, windiest, highest and driest continent on Earth. That's right - the driest ! Antarctica is a desert. The annual precipitation of snow, averaged across the continent, is about 30 centimetres, which is equivalent to about 10 centimetres of water. In some locations as little as 2 centimetres (water equivalent) is recorded.

For those confused by metrics, 10cm is a little less than 4 inches. 2cm is, very roughly, about 1 1/2 inches

Because of the low temperatures, however, there is little or no melt. Thus the snow has accumulated year after year for thousands of years and, with time, is compressed to ice to form the Antarctic ice sheet.

For future reference, please note here that gradualism is presumed.

Approximately 98 per cent of the Antarctic continent is covered by the ice sheet which is on average about 2,500 metres thick and, at it's deepest location, 4,700 metres thick. It is due to this thick ice mass that Antarctica is, on average, the highest continent. Since the ice sheet is formed by the accumulation of snow year after year, by drilling from the surface down through the ice sheet, we drill our way back in time. Ice drills are designed to collect a core as they cut through the ice, so samples are collected that are made up of ice deposited (in the form of snow) many thousands of years ago.
As the snow is deposited on top of the ice sheet each year, it traps different chemicals and impurities which are dissolved in the ice. The ice and impurities hold information about the Earth's environment and climate at the time of deposition. A variety of different analyses techniques are used to extract that information.

Climate Change

One measurement, the oxygen isotope ratio or delta value, measured using a mass spectrometer on melted samples of the ice, gives us an indication of the temperature at the time the ice was deposited as snow. Measuring the delta value at many depths through the ice core is equivalent to measuring the air temperature at many times in the past. Thus, a climatic history is developed. Climatic temperature against time from delta measurements taken on the ice core drilled at the Russian station, Vostok, in central Antarctica (Figure 2). Available data from this ice core so far extends back about 160,000 years. However, drilling of the core still continues, and it is expected that, when drilling is completed in a few years time, an age of 500,000 years will have been reached. Starting on the right-hand side of the graph at about 140,000 years ago, the climate was about 6°C colder than it is today. This was an ice age period. Then at about 130,000 years ago, there was a quite rapid warming period until about 125,000 years ago, when the climate was, perhaps, 1°C or 2°C warmer than today. These short warmer periods are called inter-glacials. We are in an inter-glacial now. From 120,000 to about 20,000 years ago, there was a long period of cooling temperatures, but with some ups and downs of a degree or two. This was the Wisconsin Period, known as the last Great Ice Age. From about 18,000 or 19,000 years ago to about 15,000 years ago, the climate went through another warming period to the next inter-glacial, - the one we are now in.

What is being seen here is two possible ice ages, the first one being somewhat less and perhaps shorter than the second. Removing the time element, which is gradualistic and uniformitarian, what might just as easily be seen is the ice age that is postulated as arising out of the Flood catastrophe, with a warmer period for several hundred years, and then the massive volcanic activity thought to be present at the time of Peleg, which would have resulted in a much more severe ice age. During the formation of both ice ages, the storms would have had to be constant, one on top of another with very little time in between, and very fierce. This would also account for what is seen in the ice cores.
Figure 2 also includes a graph of the concentration of dust in the ice core. High concentrations of dust occur at the same times as the colder periods shown on the temperature graph. There are several possible reasons for this: the air is drier during colder periods, thus, there may have been more deserts; the ice sheets were more extensive and sea levels lower, thus there would have been more exposed, dry land; there may also have been more storms, or at least more violent storms. All of these factors would increase the amount of dust lifted into the atmosphere to then be blown over Antarctica and deposited with the snow on the surface of the ice sheet.

Colder periods are normally times of less precipitation, as cold air is dry. The writer here is postulating more deserts by presuming a worldwide cold and dry climate. I think he may be presuming too much. A warmer world in the tropic and temperate zones, particularly where the oceans are concerned (a few degrees warmer temperature in the oceans would vastly increase the rate of evaporation), would provide the precipitation for the massive snowfalls required for the laying down of not only the polar caps but for the advent of the ice age(s) as well. The winds and the storms that would result from the temporary increasing disparity betwen arctic/antarctic and tropical temperatures would drive large amounts of dust toward the poles in windstorms. One thing I noticed here is that the author also mentions more land being exposed during the ice age(s), and when I mentioned that, I was ridiculed on this forum. One thing that is not mentioned in this article is the composition of the dust. Does it show high or low amounts of volcanic material? And at which levels? I would be curious to know this.

Figure 2. Dust concentration, climatic air temperature (as inferred from del measurements), and concentration of carbon dioxide and methane from measurements of trapped air are plotted against time before present. (After Lorius et al., 1993 and Petit et al., 1990).

Please go to the link provided in the post above this for the charts.

Greenhouse Gases

The snow near the surface of the ice sheet is like a sponge with channels of air between the snow grains. As more and more snow is accumulated on top, the underlying snow is compressed into ice and the air forms bubbles in the ice. Ice cores therefore can be analysed not just for the chemical and physical properties of the ice, but also for the properties of the air trapped in the ice. These bubbles are actual samples of the atmosphere up to thousands of years ago. So, analysis of them can tell us much about the atmosphere in the past.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane measured in the air bubbles trapped in the ice are shown in Figure 2 along with temperature and dust graphs. Carbon dioxide and methane are greenhouse gases and the similarity between the graphs for their concentrations and the temperature change graph indicates that the greenhouse effect is real and that it has been around for many thousands of years.

That is only if you are presuming many thousands of years. I studied that chart for some time. What I saw corresponds to the idea that a post flood ice age would have less dust due to winds because everything was wet. But then you have that period in between ice ages where you see a rise in carbon dioxide as the plant life on earth was re-established and thrived. This corresponds with the rapid rise in temperature which melted the ice. Now, keep in mind that we are ONLY talking about the one pole here -- the south one. These measurements do NOT tell us what the rest of the world was like at the time. As we move to the left in graph two, or toward the present, there is a sudden rise in the dust factor. This would easily result from volcanism and the changes in relative air temperatures, and even changes in relative areas of sea temperatures, around the world. The would cause the massive winds that seek to equalize the temperatures. More dust at a time of increasing cold and the rapid onset of a much worse ice age. Then, to the far left of the graph, a rapid rise in temperature again as the dust settles down and the temperatures and thus the pressures have also settled. The earth warms again and the ices melt, leaving what is left on the poles.
You see, if one does not presume long ages, many rapid storms in a time of fluctuating temperatures and world upheaval can account for what we see in that graph.

Has there been a significant increase in the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases since the industrial revolution?
The answer is yes, as can be seen from Figure 3 which shows the concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, measured in the bubbles from an Antarctic ice core from Law Dome near Australia's Casey Station. The concentration of carbon dioxide has increased from about 280 parts per million to 350 parts per million, which is a rise of 25 per cent since the middle of last century. Nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases also show similar trends from analysis of the ice-core bubbles. The Law Dome ice core is at a location where the snow accumulation is much higher than at Vostok. Thus, the time scale for the Law Dome core is expanded and it can provide us with more detailed information about recent climate changes, though it can not go back in time as far as the deeper Vostok ice core.

[snip the caption for figure 3]

Ice Core Dating

By sampling at very fine intervals down the ice core, and provided that each annual layer of snow is thick enough, several samples from each year may be measured for the different chemical properties. It has already been seen that the delta value is related to air temperature when the snow was deposited. Because it is warmer in summer and cooler in winter, and provided the snow layers are not too disturbed by wind, the delta value can show annual cycles. Thus, these values can be used to date the ice core. Hydrogen peroxide is created in the atmosphere by a chemical reaction that requires ultraviolet light. There is a lot less ultraviolet light in the winter than in the summer in Antarctica. Thus, measurements of hydrogen peroxide dissolved in the ice also provide a good annual cycle indicator.

Some observations here: first of all the dust would have had to be produced by winds bringing it in. Therefore the pattern is upset from the outset. Secondly, it is presumed that the variations in temperatures are correlative to summer and winter variations. However this does not necessarily have to be the case. Uniformitarian gradualism is a presumption which rests on a shaky foundation here simply because of the presence of the varying amount of dust if nothing else! The only thing indicating "annual" cycles in the ice core is the presumption of the person interpreting the data.

In order to date the ice cores accurately, the annual layers need to be thick enough to obtain about ten measurement samples from each year. The thickness of the annual layers depends on how much snow falls each year.

Or each storm......

Thus, to obtain an ice core from which accurate, detailed dating can be derived, we need to find an Antarctic site where the snow accumulation is relatively high.

Which could also mean it got blown there in snowdrifts during windstorms.

This would usually mean we need to find a low elevation site, but it must also be a site where there is no melt. If the snow was to melt at any time during the year, some measurements such as those involving trapped gases would be spoiled. In addition, the annual layers would be destroyed by the melt water which would, effectively, wash the evidence away.

And the only way they have of estimating melt rate is to take what we have today and presume it has been that way for a very long time. This kind of gradualism presumes no catastrophes, no bolide hits, nothing to disturb the quiet ebb an flow of the seasons. I do not think this is a reasonable presumption when the rest of the world is looked at and the evidence for catastrophes of various kinds is so clear.

Such locations (high snow accumulation, yet low summer temperatures) are not easy to find. One such location, however, is near the summit of Law Dome, approximately 120 kilometres from Casey Station, where an ice core has been drilled 1,200 metres through the ice sheet to the underlying bedrock. Accurate dating for this core has been obtained back to 8,000 years ago using annual cycles obtained by analysis of delta value and hydrogen peroxide. A section of the graph of delta value and hydrogen peroxide is shown in Figure 4, along with the year. The ice core depth for this section is 139 to 128 metres, corresponding to the dates 1807 to 1826 AD.

Figure 4. Detailed analysis of section of the DSS ice core (summit of Law Dome, Antarctica) showing del value, Peroxide concentration, Sulphate concentration and Conductivity values. Section of ice core is from 128 to 139 metres depth, covering the time period 1808 to 1826, and including evidence of two volcanic eruptions.

I am curious to know the sulfate measurements for core depths that are dated thousands of years ago.....

Volcanic Horizons

Measurements of electrical conductivity are also made on the ice cores - these are closely linked to the acidity of the ice. Conductivity shows an annual cycle and is higher in the summer snow than the winter snow. This is probably because of chemical reactions in the atmosphere involving dimethyl sulphide (a chemical produced in greater quantities during the summer months by marine algae and phytoplankton), which result in production of low concentrations of sulphuric acid which is then distributed over the ice sheet. Sulphuric acid is often blasted into the atmosphere by volcanic eruptions. Therefore, the conductivity in the ice cores sometimes shows a peak at the depth corresponding to the time shortly after a volcanic eruption.

I am not criticizing the hesitancy in attributing the effect to a particular cause in the first sentences of this paragraph. I applaud it. But I do think it should be noted.

A more reliable method of detecting volcanic eruptions from the ice cores however, is to measure sulphate directly. Sulphate also exists in sea salt which is deposited on the ice sheet in small quantities from wind-blown sea spray. Thus, to examine the sulphate derived from volcanoes, the sea-salt sulphate needs first to be accounted for. This can be easily done by measuring the quantities of other chemicals of marine origin.

On Figure 4, along with the accurate dating of the ice core from delta value and hydrogen peroxide, plots of conductivity and non-sea-salt Sulphate are also included. The conductivity graph does indicate annual cycles, but more interesting are the large peaks in this and in the sulphate graphs, which occur at about 1810 and between about 1816 and 1818 AD. The 1816-18 peak is due to the eruption in 1815 of Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia. The peak in about 1810 certainly seems to be due to another volcanic eruption, but none is known to have occurred around then. Volcanic eruptions are useful to glaciologists as a check on the other ice core dating techniques. On the other hand, there are previously unknown volcanic eruptions have been discovered from the evidence from the ice cores.

For me, this article ended much too soon. If you know of more data and other articles online, please let me know. I'll do some checking myself. Thank you for finding this one, Dire Puppy.

Very seriously, my main purpose in going through this paper this way is to show how the presuppositions determined the conclusions. If I presuppose a recent creation, I can look at the same data and everything fits quite nicely for me, too. In short, and this is a note for the Christians here -- God has left us enough evidence to confirm our faith but not to prove it scientifically. Data can be seen different ways, and quite validly so, depending on the presuppositions involved. One cannot look to the evidence to somehow prove that one's faith is true. If that were the case, faith would not be faith, but simply a logical conclusion. God asks us for faith in concordance with our reason, but not dependent upon it.

Response to Helen

Posted by B on September 07, 1998 at 10:21:40:

In reference to Figure 2, Helen wrote:

I studied that chart for some time. What I saw corresponds to the idea that a post flood ice age would have less dust due to winds because eveything was wet.

**I'd be surprised by any dust at all if that were my model.

Helen further wrote:

But then you have that period in between ice ages where you see a rise in carbon dioxide as the plant life on earth was re-established and thrived. This corresponds with the rapid rise in temperature which melted the ice.

**Since plants fix carbon dioxide, how can a rise in carbon dioxide be equated to the spread of plant life? I think you need to take a biology class. I also think you are trying too hard to make the data fit an invalid worldview.

**One indicator of annual cycles that you failed to criticize was the accumulation of hydrogen peroxide. Since the formation of hydrogen peroxide is tied to UV levels, as long as the Earth has been tilted there would have been annual variations of UV levels near the South Pole. How can a catastrophic flood model and the one storm per layer you have to invoke account for what can be explained very simply as seasonal variations in hydrogen peroxide? You might also mention how moutain formation due to rapid plate movement factors into this as well.

Response to B

Posted by Helen on September 07, 1998 at 10:59:28:

1. Living near the flood prone Calif. central valley, I can testify that the surface will dry quickly and produce some dust during winds, even though the soil a little further down is still wet. The more sandy the soil the more the winds can raise in a shorter time after the rains.
2. Plants don't grow well without the CO2. Therefore I repeat that a rise in plant life and a rise in CO2 levels should be contemporaneous.     
3. Regarding your other points, I was staying with what the article presented. Earth axis tilt, mountain building etc. were not mentioned in the article and therefore not in my response. The purpose of my response was to present the idea that data can be interpreted different ways by different people.       However, if you had read what I wrote, you would have seen that I never postulated only one storm, nor did I attribute everything to Noah's flood. And just a thought regarding UV levels and the H2O2 levels -- the amount of UV reaching earth is hugely dependent upon a number of variables, including the force of the magnetic field, the size of the ozone hole in the Antarctic, how much the air might be clogged with volcanic debris, etc. What we see is mostly seasonal or postulated as epochal, but that does not mean we are right in that conclusion regarding how things used to be or were at one time.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.