Catastrophic Plate Tectonics: A Global Flood Model of Earth History

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by Steven A. Austin, Ph.D., John R. Baumgardner, Ph.D., Andrew A. Snelling, Ph.D., Larry Vardiman, Ph.D., and Kurt P. Wise, Ph.D.


Presented at the Third International Conference on Creationism, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, July 18–23, 1994. Published in: Proceedings of the Third International Conference on Creationism, R. E. Walsh (Ed.), pp. 609–621, 1994.

© 1994 Creation Science Fellowship, Inc., Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Published with permission. All Rights Reserved.


In 1859 Antonio Snider proposed that rapid, horizontal divergence of crustal plates occurred during Noah’s Flood. Modern plate tectonics theory is now conflated with assumptions of uniformity of rate and ideas of continental “drift.” Catastrophic plate tectonics theories, such as Snider proposed more than a century ago, appear capable of explaining a wide variety of data—including biblical and geologic data which the slow tectonics theories are incapable of explaining. We would like to propose a catastrophic plate tectonics theory as a framework for Earth history.

Geophysically, we begin with a pre-Flood earth differentiated into core, mantle, and crust, with the crust horizontally differentiated into sialic craton and mafic ocean floor. The Flood was initiated as slabs of oceanic floor broke loose and subducted along thousands of kilometers of pre-Flood continental margins. Deformation of the mantle by these slabs raised the temperature and lowered the viscosity of the mantle in the vicinity of the slabs. A resulting thermal runaway of the slabs through the mantle led to meters-per-second mantle convection. Cool oceanic crust which descended to the core/mantle boundary induced rapid reversals of the earth’s magnetic field. Large plumes originating near the core/mantle boundary expressed themselves at the surface as fissure eruptions and flood basalts. Flow induced in the mantle also produced rapid extension along linear belts throughout the sea floor and rapid horizontal displacement of continents. Upwelling magma jettisoned steam into the atmosphere causing intense global rain. Rapid emplacement of isostatically lighter mantle material raised the level of the ocean floor, displacing ocean water onto the continents. When virtually all the pre-Flood oceanic floor had been replaced with new, less-dense, less-subductable, oceanic crust, catastrophic plate motion stopped. Subsequent cooling increased the density of the new ocean floor, producing deeper ocean basins and a reservoir for post-Flood oceans.

Sedimentologically, we begin with a substantial reservoir of carbonate and clastic sediment in the pre-Flood ocean. During the Flood hot brines associated with new ocean floor added precipitites to that sediment reservoir, and warming ocean waters and degassing magmas added carbonates—especially high magnesium carbonates. Also during the Flood, rapid plate tectonics moved pre-Flood sediments toward the continents. As ocean plates subducted near a continental margin, its bending caused upwarping of sea floor, and its drag caused downwarping of continental crust, facilitating the placement of sediment onto the continental margin. Once there, earthquake-induced sea waves with ocean-to-land movement redistributed sediment toward continental interiors. Resulting sedimentary units tend to be thick, uniform, of unknown provenance, and extend over regional, inter-regional, and even continental areas.

After the Flood, the earth experienced a substantial period of isostatic readjustment, where local to regional catastrophes with intense earthquake and volcanic activity were common. Post-Flood sedimentation continued to be rapid but was dominantly basinal on the continents. Left-over heat in the new oceans produced a significantly warmer climate just after the Flood. In the following centuries, as the earth cooled, floral and faunal changes tracked the changing climate zonation. The warmer oceans caused continental transport of moisture that led to the advance of continental glaciers and ultimately to the formation of polar ice caps.


Catastrophe, Flood Model, Plate Tectonics, Subduction, Thermal Runaway, Convection, Spreading, Fountains of the Great Deep, Windows of Heaven, Volcanoes, Earthquakes, Sediments, Precipitites, Magnetic Reversals, Isostasy, Climate, Ice Age

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