The Speed of Glaciers

Author: Stephen Caesar
Subject: Geology
Date: 5/31/2004

One of the central assumptions of old-earth dating methods is that geological processes have always operated at the same rate at which they are operating today. Evolutionists assume, for example, that if glaciers are moving slowly today, they must have always done so. This has created the false impression that the Ice Ages of the prehistoric past took place over many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of years. However, glaciologists studying the modern glaciers that are the remnants of the Ice Ages have found this assumption to be false.

According to Mark Fahnestock (Institute for the Study of the Earth, Oceans and Space, University of New Hampshire), “glaciologists tend to see the remaining large ice masses in Greenland and Antarctica as dynamic objects, capable of relatively rapid changes in discharge at outlet glaciers near the ice edge” (2003: 578). Scientists have detected “rapid shifts of substantial ice mass over tens of seconds,” not thousands of years (Ibid.). Fahnestock went on to state:

“The long-period seismic signals from these [movement] events, generated by a rapid pulse of motion lasting the better part of a minute, show that parts of the ice sheet may accelerate suddenly….[S]ome glaciers, including outlet glaciers from large ice sheets, are subject to surges that might last a few hours, days, or months. Some even alternate between rapid-flow episodes (surges) and near-quiescence” (Ibid.).

He further reported: “Large glaciers are known to change speed in response to external forcings, such as water input from melting and ocean tides for glaciers that end in the sea. These forcings can produce large changes in speed over the course of hours to days; the present work suggests that this time scale may need to be extended down to minutes, and the hypothesized mechanisms may need to be modified” (Ibid.).

The research to which Fahnestock is referring was conducted by Göran Ekström and Meredith Nettles (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard) and Geoffrey Abers (Department of Earth Sciences, Boston University), who found that these extremely rapid movements of glaciers are caused by earthquakes (Ekström et al. 2003: 622). This was revealed by their study of the Dall Glacier in Alaska and various glaciers in Greenland, as they reported: “Examination of several of the newly detected earthquakes beneath Greenland indicates that they are analogous to the Dall glacier earthquake, and we infer that they are examples of a previously unknown class of earthquake associated with RAPID MASS MOVEMENT IN GLACIERS” (Ibid. 624 [emphasis added]).

This connection between earthquakes and rapid mass movement in glaciers is significant for Creationists, who have for a long time theorized that the Ice Ages were intimately connected to the Genesis Flood. Since the Bible portrays a young Earth, glacial movement would have to be extremely rapid. We now know that this is the correct view of glacial movement. Furthermore, the discovery that the extremely fast movement of glaciers is triggered by earthquakes meshes with Gen. 7:11, which hints that massive seismic activity accompanied the Great Flood: “All the fountains of the great deep were broken up.”

It appears that the gargantuan seismic activity of Gen. 7:11 caused already existing glaciers to move with extreme rapidity, possibly flowing into the oceans and causing massive environmental disruption, not to mention a rapid, colossal increase in ocean level, which would have greatly contributed to the flooding of the Earth.

The belief that geological processes have always occurred at the same speed throughout Earth’s history (a belief known as uniformitarianism) has suffered a severe blow and must be re-examined, according to Prof. Fahnestock: “If episodic motion [in glaciers] makes up a significant component of total ice flow, then ice models will require a broadened scope to deal with the processes that may be involved” (2003: 579). In other words, it’s time to reassess the uniformitarian assumption that glaciers have always moved slowly.


Ekström, G., et al. 2003. “Glacial Earthquakes.” Science 302, no. 5645.

Fahnestock, M. 2003. “Glacial Flow Goes Seismic.” Science 302, no. 5645.

Stephen Caesar holds his master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research and the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at

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