Monday Minute: Flood Geology of the “Mountains of Ararat”

“Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat” by Simon de Myle

Part and parcel to the ‘Flood Geology’ paradigm is the proposal that Noah’s Ark ran aground in the high mountains of Turkey near the end of a recent global flood—an inference made from Genesis 8:4, which refers to the “mountains of Ararat” as the ark’s final resting place. Many have debated the meaning of this imprecise geographical reference, which could refer to the volcanic peak of Mt. Ararat, the mountain chain in which it lies, or even the hill country of northernmost Sumeria (once known as the ‘land of Urartu’). But despite the longstanding tradition within the Creation Science movement of searching the slopes of Mt. Ararat itself, the preferred interpretation by today’s young-Earth ministries (notably Answers in Genesis) seems to be that Noah’s Ark made ground on one of many mountains in the vicinity of the Turkish-Iranian-Armenian border.

From Sarıkaya, 2012: Due to recent global warming, Mt. Ararat is rapidly losing its ice cover, which has melted back by ~30%. Maybe the ark will be revealed to us in short time?

From Sarıkaya, 2012: Due to recent global warming, Mt. Ararat is rapidly losing its ice cover, which has melted back by ~30%. Maybe the ark will be revealed to us in short time?

The standard young-Earth interpretation of the Genesis text is problematic, not least because textual traditions within the Judaeo-Christian faith cite multiple locations outside of the Ararat region (e.g. the Samaritan Pentateuch and Jewish Targums). While these groups were familiar with the narrative ultimately preserved by the Hebrew Bible, still they took creative license with some of its details. These discrepancies reflect a common attitude toward historical place names in ancient story telling, in which ‘getting all the facts straight’ is hardly a priority. In other words, the facts do not make the story; rather, the story makes the facts.

For the sake of discussion, however, let us assume that Genesis 8:4 ‘got it right’. What are the implications for Flood geology?

Creation science ministries such as Answers in Genesis speculate that modern mountain ranges were almost exclusively formed during or immediately after the flood of Noah. This tally would include the sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rocks that comprise the core and slopes of Earth’s vast ranges. Therefore, the “mountains of Ararat”—however broad the description—must have formed and uplifted during a recent, year-long, global flood, just in time for Noah’s ark to land safely on the surface.

What’s wrong with this scenario?

First of all, all mountains in the vicinity of Ararat intrude (or cross cut) sedimentary rock layers from the Late Paleozoic era and Miocene/Oligocene epochs. Many of these rocks are shallow marine limestones, which were deposited in a continental shelf environment prior to the tectonic collision of the Arabian peninsula with central Asia. The Flood geologist must explain, therefore, how these sediments had time to accumulate in relatively placid environments in the span of ~150 days and then lithified prior to being folded, faulted, and uplifted by regional volcanism and continental collision. The timeline required by this detail alone falsifies the YEC’s interpretation of the Noah’s tale.

Figure 1 from Allen et al. (2013), illustrating the location of Late Cenozoic (11 Ma - Present) volcanic eruptions that resulted from the ongoing collision of Arabia and Eurasia over the past 35 million years.

Figure 1 from Allen et al. (2013), illustrating the location of Late Cenozoic (11 Ma – Present) volcanic eruptions that resulted from the ongoing collision of Arabia and Eurasia over the past 35 million years.

Secondly, the Ararat mountains are part of an elongate volcanic range that forms the northern border of the fertile crescent. Mt. Ararat itself is a large stratovolcano, comprised of ash that mainly fell from the air during repeated eruptions over several million years. Argon-argon dating of the volcanic slopes, along with lava flows from adjacent valleys and plateaus, indicate that these volcanic peaks are at least 11 million years in the making. No amount of special pleading (particularly from the RATE team) can justify a date of only ~5,000 years in light of these data.

For those who remain skeptical of the radiometric dates, however, we must still consider that stratovolcanoes do not form underwater. In fact, none of the regional volcanic deposits show evidence of being shaped by water-induced cooling, let alone from a global flood. Geologists can easily recognize when volcanos erupted underwater, because we observe it daily along mid-ocean ridges and in active volcanic islands.

Between a rock and a hard place

So, we are left with two implausible options. Either the mountains of Ararat existed prior to Noah’s day and were covered temporarily by a rising flood (in which case we must explain the absence of flood-related deposition/erosion on their slopes), or they were formed after the flood, sometime in the last ~5,000 years. The latter option is physically impossible, given the sheer volume and height of the ranges and supporting evidence from radiometric dating, but it also implies that the Ark never landed in Ararat (contra Gen. 8:4).

Both of these scenarios are falsified further by geological records from Lake Van, which lies immediately southwest of Mt. Ararat. Lake Van was formed when the local drainage was dammed by a volcanic flow, and since that time, it has collected pollen-rich sediments in well formed varves. This combination makes Lake Van a rich and valuable archive of paleoclimatic information, so its 15,000+ varves have been counted carefully by a number of researchers (Wick et al., 2003; Reimer et al., 2009). Though it is a “recent” geological feature (being only ~600,000 years old; Stockhecke et al., 2014), the uninterrupted existence Lake Van since the last glacial period implies that adjacent volcanic ranges are not younger than 15,000 years old, and none were covered by a large body of water within that interval.

What is the biblical significance of Ararat?

Given that no ship ever landed in the mountains of Ararat in the wake of a recent global flood, one might be tempted to dismiss the detail offered by Genesis 8:4 as folkloric nonsense. In my opinion, however, this logical leap is comparably naïve, given the powerful polemic that it offers. In Mesopotamian and Babylonian accounts of the divine flood, the salvific vessel comes to rest on a mound on the plains, which strongly resembles those on which their ancient temples were built. The reason is that the narrative touches on the relationship between human and divine, judgement and redemption, mortality and immortality, and the human condition. Placing the ark on a temple mound conveys a powerful message regarding the divine source of human life.

In a previous post, I explored the significance of the four rivers leading out of Eden, given that geographically, the description makes little sense. My proposal was that by placing Eden at the fountainhead of each river, which collectively brought life to all the nations, the biblical author posited the God of Israel as the source of life (physical and spiritual) for all mankind. When it comes to Noah—a type of ‘second Adam’—the situation is no different. According to the biblical tale, Noah’s family is the ancient progenitor of the known nations (Genesis 10). His departure from the ark is followed by a new garden scene. But where is it located? At the fountainhead of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, in the land of Urartu (i.e. the mountains of Ararat). Taking creative license with the final resting place of Noah’s Ark, the Genesis author thus offers a radical polemic against the religious life of his pagan neighbors. The Lord, the god of Israel, remains the source of life to all mankind, even in the wake of uncreation and new creation.

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8 responses to “Monday Minute: Flood Geology of the “Mountains of Ararat”

  1. Of course there’s NOTHING in GENESIS about Ararat or ANY other mountain rising up during the latter part of the flood. YECs get it from Psalm 104:8 (in SOME translations) as part of their attempt to make a worldwide mountain/hill covering flood ‘feasible’.

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    • Yes, this is another relevant point. It’s typically taken for granted by YECs that Psalm 104 is connected to the flood, but it’s not. Additionally, Gen. 7 seems to imply that mountains had already formed (how else would they be covered by rising water?).

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  2. The sediments in Lake Van, from what I’ve read, go back even further than the Wick et al. article describes. The varves preserve multiple volcanic eruptions over the last 20,000 years that can even be “fingerprinted” to specific volcanoes! All told the varves seem to go back 500,000 years, before anatomically modern humans. I have to admit I only know about Stoke’s Law due to Glenn Morton, but isn’t the formation of these varves in a global flood (or over a post-flood period) completely ruled out just by that alone? Unless I’m wrong, there’s no physically plausible way to settle out tiny particles in such a regular pattern in such a short time, much less in a cataclysmic flood!

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    • Hi Daniel, thanks for the comments! I added a couple references that I had regarding the Lake Van chronology, so I really appreciate your pointing out those details.

      You’re correct, the sedimentary record of Lake Van is more than half a million years, and its chronology is based largely on fingerprinting volcanic eruptions preserved in those layers (amazing stuff!). I limited my comment to the ~15,000 varved layers, because although older varves do exist, annual layers can only be counted continuously back to the last glacial period (as far as I understand). Prior to this, there are non-varved sediments, then more varves, then more non-varved sediments etc. To avoid a complicated discussion, it seemed sufficient to focus on the less ambiguous, continuous varve chronology that spans no less than 15,000 years (note: I updated that figure from 13,700, which was the current count when Wick et al. was published in 2003).

      Also, you’re correct that we shouldn’t find varves at all amid catastrophic flooding. Certain mass flows (rapid deposition of mud/silt) can produce laminations or banding in rare conditions, but these features are fundamentally unique from actual varves. Varves alternate between two types of dominant mineral, organic content, isotopic values, and more, due to their seasonal origins.

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  3. Another example of Ken Ham making stuff up re the Genesis flood:
    https://sensuouscurmudgeon.wordpress.com/2015/05/01/ken-ham-nepal-earthquake-caused-by-sin/#comment-89731
    Whilst Genesis 1 may imply a single landmass, the description of the flood in Genesis does NOT REMOTELY say or imply that “This global catastrophe — a judgment on man’s wickedness — completely reshaped the globe. It would’ve ripped the original, single pre-Flood land mass apart”. Besides – this moron and false teacher would have Christians believe that in the space of a few months India and Asia BROKE APART but then came back towards each other and COLLIDED (making what were low, water-covered hills into massive high mountains).

    Words fail me.

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    • I just saw the article on Ham’s blog. It seems a little insensitive to say, “We’re grieved by the tragedy, but let me take this opportunity to remind you why geologists don’t understand earthquakes in Nepal.”

      Reminds me of the time AiG commented on the tsunami in Japan..

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  4. I see that on his Facebook page Ham has been urging followers to read this. But some commenting under the article on the page are struggling to make sense of AiG’s position Genesis suggests that mountains were ALREADY there.
    https://answersingenesis.org/geology/plate-tectonics/noahs-lost-world/
    Some of what’s in the article is blatant eisegesis – designed to fit with the AiG agenda and ‘history of the world’. “At the initiation of the Flood the fountains of the great deep were broken up (Genesis 7:11), ripping apart the pre-Flood supercontinent. The upwelling molten rock from the underlying mantle then helped to propel the continental fragments across the globe, opening up new ocean basins and colliding to produce today’s mountains.” (Snelling would claim that the mountains mentioned in Genesis are not ‘today’s’ mountains and that they were much lower than now – he has no evidence for this and is adding the the Flood account.) “But we do have a reasonable picture of what happened at the catastrophic initiation of the Flood. Huge plumes of molten rock blasted the underside of the earth’s crust like massive blow-torches. Eventually the crust was ripped apart, and steam and molten rock burst forth. The supercontinent collapsed, with slivers of land sliding into the ocean at the margins.” None of which is even hinted at in Genesis. And Snelling was not there.

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