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Scientists have found what might have been the perfect ancient vacation hotspot with average sea water temperatures of 24C. Now that’s a warm ocean. Where? Smack in the middle of the Arctic. Several geologists recently pulled a core of sediment from the bottom of the Arctic Ocean and discovered a bygone greenhouse world. No one expected to find evidence of temperatures high enough to make Santa sweat.

But according to Jan Backman, a marine geologist at Stockholm University in Sweden, “this is a major, major surprise.” The discovery suggests that at one time there was very little difference between equatorial and Arctic climates. Some scientists believe the ancient climate was driven by a global factor such as higher than modern greenhouse gas concentrations that came about naturally. These scientists point to very high levels of carbon dioxide as the greenhouse gas responsible for the balmy climate.

The greenhouse effect gets its name from the observation that air inside a greenhouse is warmer than air outside because the glass panes trap heat. Think of getting into your parked car after it has sat in the sun for a while. Greenhouse gases in our atmosphere trap the sun’s heat and keep the planet fairly warm. If our atmosphere did not have these gases, earth would be like the moon which gets extremely hot during the day and extremely cold at night.

When we hear “greenhouse effect”, like a knee-jerk reaction we automatically think carbon dioxide. But carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas that effectively traps heat. Methane and water vapour are also good heat trappers. The study on arctic climate also suggests that ice crystals in the earth’s atmosphere may have contributed to a warmer than presently normal climate. (Nature June 1/06 pp. 580 and 610.)

How did the balmy north become the cold white place it is today? Some suggest that a drop in greenhouse gases caused a cooling effect at the poles. Climatic computer models, cited in Nature, however, are unable to explain how the change could have happened, even over a period of millions of years (p. 612).

An interesting feature of the current studies on past arctic climate (based on the contents of sediment cores of the ocean bottom) is that one large section of the deposit contains abundant remains of the fresh water tropical fern Azolla. Now what was this fern doing in the Arctic ocean? Apparently there was an excess of fresh water input over evaporation at the time, enough to drastically dilute the salt content of the sea so that Azolla could grow. (Nature pp. 580 and 606.) Hmm… a lot of rain, enough to turn the sea into fresh water. How unusual. Are there any explanations for these observations? There are indeed.

Some creation scientists believe that the earth was very different in the past. Carbon dioxide may not have been the greenhouse gas responsible for those balmy temperatures after all.

Genesis 1:6-8 speaks about what some interpret as a water vapour canopy encircling the earth. This canopy, high up in the earth’s atmosphere, was probably no thicker than six inches, yet it was enough to create the tropical climate of the early earth. During the flood, this canopy collapsed, providing some of the flood waters. However six inches of water vapour would not be enough to create the vast waters that flooded the earth. Most of the flood waters probably came from vast subterranean reservoirs (see Genesis 7:11).

It could thus have been the collapse of the vapour canopy that pulled the Arctic from a hothouse into an icehouse. The current suggestion that ice crystals in the atmosphere may have contributed to warming, certainly sounds like the vapour canopy. This may be corroboration for such an idea.

Other creation based scientists wonder whether so much water above the atmosphere would heat the climate to temperatures lethal for life. Some of the latter scientists cite studies with computer models which suggest that heavy evaporation from the post flood ocean surface (warm as a result of volcanic eruptions) would lead to cooling at the poles. This would cause snow to fall there and plunge the world into an ice age.

Thus while the current computer models are unable to explain these unexpected observations from the Canadian Arctic, creation-based models predict warm preflood conditions and ways by means of which the climate could have quickly changed.

The objective of creation based scientists has always been to discover how nature, as we see it today, bears the marks of past events described in the Bible. This is an ideal example of such an approach.

Josh Munan
October 2006

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