Antarctica: Can Ancient Flood in Bible’s Book of Genesis Explain Mysterious Fossilized Forest?

Updated | A fossilized Antarctic forest, older than the dinosaurs, might hold evidence of the legendary biblical flood from the tale of Noah’s Ark.

Scientists announced the discovery of the fossilized trees in Antarctica’s Transantarctic Mountains in November. They believe the forest is the oldest one known to exist in the southern polar region, according to Breaking News Israel. They proposed that the ancient trees preserved a record of a large-scale global die-off event, which raised the planet’s temperature to dangerous extremes and turned its oceans acidic, and ultimately wiped out 95 percent of species on Earth. But they were left with the question of what exactly was the catalyst for those changes. At least one biblical scholar believes he has the answer: The die-off event was the Great Flood described in the Book of Genesis.

“This discovery should be no surprise to those who take Genesis as literal history,” Tim Clarey, a geologist from the Institute for Creation Research, wrote on the ICR website. “The Bible clearly describes a global flood that affected all land masses—why should Antarctica be an exception?”

Clarey believes the Earth is no more than 10,000 years old, a theory known as Young Earth Creationism. He wrote on the ICR website that the forest tells the story of the flood, which took place just a few thousand years ago. The scientists who discovered the forest dated it as around 280 million years old, noting that some of the amino acids—the building blocks of proteins—were so well-preserved they could still be extracted.

“How could proteins and original amino acids survive for millions of years?” Clarey wrote on the ICR website. “The secular science community has no viable answers to explain remarkable finds like these.”

Whether you believe in the Great Flood or not, “secular science” does have viable answers. The geologists who made the discovery said that they didn’t know what caused the die-off, but they can still explain how amino acids could be preserved for 280 million years. Whatever cataclysmic event—Biblical or otherwise—set the die-off in motion, it caused the forest to become buried in volcanic ash so quickly that the trees were fossilized down to the cellular level, as the geologists told Live Science in November.

“The geologic record shows us the beginning, middle and end of climate change events,” Erik Gulbranson, a geologist from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) who was involved in the forest’s initial discovery, wrote in a UWM statement at the time. “With further study, we can better understand how greenhouse gases and climate change affect life on Earth.”

GreatFlood A fossilized Antarctic forest, older than the dinosaurs, might hold evidence of the legendary biblical flood from the tale of Noah’s Ark. “The secular science community has no viable answers to explain remarkable finds like these.” Wikimedia Commons

If you’re not persuaded by the secular community, take it from the religious community. Brent Landau, a biblical scholar from the University of Texas at Austin, told Newsweek that Clarey is “espousing a form of religiously motivated pseudoscience, and a relatively unsophisticated one at that.”

Landau explained that Young Earth Creationists arrive at the idea that the planet is only 10,000 years old through methods like adding up the ages of people written about in the Book of Genesis, and that there’s no need for religious scholars to take that kind of evidence more seriously than the “vast amount of scientific data” pointing to the Earth being around 4.6 billion years old.

“Notice that he links the destruction in Antarctica to the Flood, but insists that the scientists’ date for this catastrophe of 280 million years ago must be incorrect,” Landau wrote to Newsweek over email.

That’s not to say that scientific explanations of the Great Flood can’t be made responsibly. "It is by no means impossible that the story of Noah's Flood had some actual basis in reality," Landau wrote to Newsweek. "A number of other ancient Near Eastern cultures have similar flood myths."

Geologists from Columbia University have proposed that Mediterranean glaciers disastrously raised the levels of the Black Sea when they melted around 7,500 years ago. At the United States State Department’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, an environmental geologist proposed that a comet crashed near the coast of Madagascar 5,000 years ago, setting off a series of global tsunamis.

“These are two thoughtful and creative scientific hypotheses suggesting natural explanations for the biblical account of Noah’s Flood,” Landau told Newsweek. “And Dr. Clarey’s explanation based on a literal reading of the Bible should not be regarded as legitimate scientific research on par with these two hypotheses.”

This article has been updated to include an additional quote by Brent Landau on scientific explanations for the Great Flood.

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