Saturday, July 28, 2007

When lies goes deep.

The photograph shows Step Canyon as it nears Johnston Ridge Observatory. "Engineers" Canyon (bottom left) is seen merging into Step Canyon.

Since Clues 3 and 4 are nearly identical, there is really no need to write a separate column. Here are to two clues for a recent creation offered at the AiG Creation “Museum:”

Clue 3 - “Looit” (the word should be Loowit) and Step Canyon –
Mudflows cut canyons out of solid rock in just a few years – A miniature example
of rapid erosion immediately during and after the flood.

Clue 4 - Engineers and Little Grand Canyon – Mudflows cut soft sediments in hours – A miniature example of rapid erosion immediately during and after the flood.

“Clue” 3 and “Clue” 4 is just plain silly. First, I would hardly call Loowit and Step Canyons, true canyons, both of these “canyons” average between 40 to 60 feet deep and they are as wide as a street. So-called “Engineers” Canyon was established by the US Army Corp of Engineers in 1982 as they began efforts to pump water out of the still dam up Spirit Lake and that “canyon” too is only 40 to 60 feet in depth. Finally, the “Little Grand Canyon” does not actually exist (not at least on any official map of the national volcanic monument). That name was developed by ICR geologist Steve Austin to describe erosional features located near Coldwater Lake about eight miles west of the volcano.

But, there is no denial that the “canyon” system in the Toutle River Valley, beneath the feet of Mount St Helens developed within a few years after the 1980 eruption. What AiG is implying though in Clues 3 and 4 (and at other displays in the so called “museum”) that events observed at Mount St Helens are common to canyon systems around the world, including the Grand Canyon in Arizona. This is just plain silly!

There were several contributing factors that lead to the rapid erosion at Mount St Helens after 1980, none of which are especially unique for a landscape that was substantially altered by a recent volcanic eruption. At the outset of the eruption of May 18, 1980, 0.6 cubic miles of the mountain went tumbling into the Toutle River Valley. It was the largest landslide in recorded history. Near the base of the mountain, the valley was buried to an average depth of 600 feet. Further away and as far as 14 miles down the Toutle River Valley, the debris avalanche added an average of 150 feet. 120 feet of the deposit at the base of Mount St Helens, consist of loosely consolidated pyroclastic flow debris. At least 32 pyroclastic flows were observed on May 18, 1980 and even more documented during the five other explosive eruptions that occurred during that year, which extended as far north as the shores of Spirit Lake, five miles northeast of Mount St Helens.

Now let’s add into the equation the following: steep terrain, no vegetation, loosely consolidated volcanic and avalanche debris and an average annual precipitation total of 130 inches per year. What do you get? Erosion and a lot of it! Long after Mount St Helens finally does return to a prolonged period of dormancy, erosion will remain as the mountains greatest hazard for decades to come for the people and communities which hug the shores of the Toutle River.

But does the “canyon” system at Mount St Helens compare to the Grand Canyon in Arizona? This is what Steve Austin and the AiG “museum” wants people to believe. If a canyon system can rapidly develop at Mount St Helens, so the logic goes, why not the same thing occurring at the Grand Canyon?

The Grand Canyon is 277 miles long, approximately 1 mile deep and as much as 18 miles wide, at the Canyon’s widest point. I had the privilege of hiking the Grand Canyon from the North Rim to the South Rim and I can speak first hand that crossing the “canyons” of Mount St Helens is nothing when compared to trekking across the hot and difficult terrain at the Grand Canyon.

What should be immediate apparent to a visitor to the Grand Canyon is the substantially different geological conditions at the Canyon, as compared to Mount St Helens. The walls of the Canyon is composed of limestone at the rim and alternates between limestone, sandstone, shale and metamorphic granite to the bottom of the Canyon, where the Colorado River can be found flowing through the Vishnu Gorge. The sedimentary rocks that comprises most of the walls of the Canyon, is easier to erode, but the metamorphic rock that is found towards the bottom of the Canyon is much more resistant to erosion.

Now it is true that a great debate continues throughout the geologic community on how the Grand Canyon was developed, especially across the Kaibab Plateau which sits higher then the neighboring Marble Canyon to the east. There are several good hypotheses floating around, but none are definitive because much of the evidence to support the hypothesis long ago eroded away or is buried somewhere. Austin and the AiG “Museum” has hitched their wagon to one popular hypothesis known as “headwater” erosion of the Kaibab Plateau, but this is about as close to making a scientific observation I have found from Austin or AiG.

The real challenge facing YEC geologists is the rate of erosion at the Grand Canyon. Although sedimentary rock are easier to erode, the rates observed today remain slow and certainly based on modern observations that the rate of erosion at the Grand Canyon it would be impossible to cram the development of the Grand Canyon into the 4,350 year old time frame developed by YECers.

Austin and his compatriot at ICR, John Morris, attempted to account for the problem of erosion at the Grand Canyon by claiming in the years after the “flood,” the freshly deposited “flood” debris (which will eventually make up the limestone, sandstone, shale and more) had yet to solidify, creating a condition that is similar to (where else?) the loosely consolidated landslide and volcanic debris found at Mount St Helens, where erosion after the “flood” would be relatively “easy.” But this claim too is extremely problematic because based on the conditions described by Austin and Morris to work, the sediments at the Grand Canyon would have the consistency of a slushy and gravity simply could not sustain the walls of the Grand Canyon that we see today.

Morris recently came up with an answer to this problem too, when in May of 2007, he claimed that the pyroclastic flow debris and landslide debris at Mount St Helens has “hardened” into solid rock, creating another comparison to conditions found at Mount St Helens and the Grand Canyon. But, this is a complete fabrication. The pyroclastic debris has not “hardened” because the temperature of the flows were not hot enough to weld the volcanic debris together and what rocks are found in the landslide debris, were rocks BEFORE the eruption because these rocks are the broken up remnants of the formally 9,677 foot edifice of Mount St Helens.

In the end, the actual value of using the “canyon” system at Mount St Helens is to establish a red herring to support a common straw-man argument to attack the geological age of the Grand Canyon.

At a minimum, the Grand Canyon is about 1.3 million years old, based on the dating of basalt flows that enter into the Canyon near a point called Torroweap on the western edge of the Canyon. The start of the actual formation of the Grand Canyon could have occurred between 6 million to 12 million years ago and perhaps as much as 35 million years ago (depending on which hypothesis is looked at). And the reported ages of the Grand Canyon actually does not address the timeframe it took the Colorado River to actually slice through a mile of rock for 277 miles. Regardless, the timeframe needed to develop the Grand Canyon is far greater than the 6,000 year or 4,350 year timeframe permitted by YEC theory.

So when a geologists say it took “millions of years” to form the Grand Canyon, the AiG museum will throw up a photograph of the “canyon” system at Mount St Helens and say that it does not take that much time, without really bothering to explain the differences between both places. It might a convincing argument for the ignorant and the gullible, but for anyone with half brain can quickly recognize the AiG is being less than truthful.