Continental Drift and Runaway Subduction

The continents of the world are large rock masses which “float” on a vast layer of hot material located miles below the surface of the earth. For many years it has been taught that the continents are slowly drifting apart as the plates on which the continents ride spread apart in some places while they are subducted (plunge into the hot layer below) in other places. Current measurements place the speed of this process at an excruciatingly slow 3 cm per year. If the European, African, and the American continents were once one large land mass, it would have taken 1000 million years for them to drift to their current position (at 3 cm per year). This is one of the evidences which evolutionary geologists use to support a belief in an extremely old earth. However, work by geophysicist Dr. John Baumgardner has shown that this subduction does not need to happen at such slow rates.1

Dr. Baumgardner works at the Los Alamos National Laboratory as an expert in modeling geophysical movements of the Earth’s crust. He has developed one of the most complex and comprehensive computer models of crustal movement available today. In the process of developing this model, Dr. Baumgardner discovered the importance of including the shear thinning of the underlying rock into his model. Shear thinning is the tendency of a very thick fluid to become thinner as a force acts upon it. This thinning tendency has been confirmed by laboratory experiments on rock at high temperature and pressure. This fluid flow of the hot rock can lead to runaway subduction of the continental plates.

Once this shear thinning starts it triggers a rapid subduction of the continental plates and the continents could have moved into their current positions in a matter of months rather than taking a billion years. Dr. Baumgardner’s model shows that the sinking plates will move at billions of cm per year rather than the current rate of only a few centimeters per year.

The ability of modern science to model the past is only as good as the starting assumptions of the researchers. A large meteor impact or massive earthquake could have triggered a runaway subduction process that moved the continents to their current positions quite rapidly. Dr. Baumgardner believes that the worldwide catastrophe in chapters 7 and 8 of the Bible (commonly known as Noah’s flood) could have easily triggered a runaway subduction event in the earth’s past. If Dr. Baumgardner is correct, massive land movements would have accompanied the Genesis flood. Furthermore, this sophisticated computer modeling of the earth’s crust reveals there is reason to believe that the continents could have moved into their current positions in the relatively recent past.

1. John Baumgardner, Ph.D, Computer Modeling of Large-scale Tectonics Associated with the Genesis Flood, The Proceeding of the Third International Conference on Creationism, 1994