Turbidites: A Challenge to Uniformitarianism

By Kurt Howard, M.S.
Edited by Jon Covey, B.A., MT(ASCP)

My physical geology professor said, “Regarding uniformitarianism, you can take it with a grain of salt.” After reviewing geology texts on the subject of turbidites, I am following the courageous professor’s advice. To paraphrase his words, I am taking uniformitarianism with a grain of sand, for the philosophy of uniformitarianism states that sedimentary layers form over many millions of years, while much recent research has shown that turbidites form within a few hours.1

Geologists believe that turbidites are sandstone beds resulting from turbidity currents occurring sporadically and often catastrophically underwater. These underwater currents loaded with varying amounts of sediment, move rapidly down even slight slopes along the ocean bottom for great distances. They originate from underwater slumps or slides often triggered by earthquakes or storm surges. Modern turbidites represent the redeposition of sediments deposited on continental margins by floods and mud- and sand-laden rivers. Ancient turbidites may represent the redeposition of sediments produced during a catastrophic worldwide flood, flowing as turbidity currents into basins that formed during massive tectonic upheavals and mountain-building events.

Turbidity currents are only one of many processes which redistribute material on the earth’s surface or underwater. There is a continuum of sedimentary flows which are classified arbitrarily according to particle size. These include avalanches, mudflows, lahars (from glacial meltwater), and volcanic tuffs. Most of these processes occur both on land and under water. Turbidity flows involve mostly sand to silt sized particles and occur only under water. They are density flows, since the dense sediment-laden current sinks to the bottom of the ocean (or lake) and travels along the bottom for long distances, covering thousands of square miles uniformly, sometimes hundreds of meters thick.

In 1972 Burgert identified several lower basal Tapeats units as turbidites in Grand Canyon’s Cheops Bay. Dr. Ariel Roth, a geologist at Loma Linda University’s Geoscience Institute, suggested that 30% of all sedimentary rocks in Grand Canyon are turbidites. Some geologists suggest that 50% of the world’s sedimentary rocks might be turbidites. If this is true, and it will take much field work to confirm, it will greatly strengthen the case for a global flood. A review of the scientific literature through on-line database search commands reveals thousands of articles on turbidites for the last few years. From 1940 to 1965, geologists identified a very massive type of turbidite bed that they named flysch. A flysch generally forms in a geosyncline: a very large, long trough or basin that has folded and faulted at the perimeter of continents.

The Appalachians are an uplifted geosyncline according to Tarbuck and Lutgens. Flysch deposits are tens of thousands of meters thick, about ten times thicker than non-flysch turbidite layers. An ancient turbidite in the Great Valley of California is this thick. Graywacke is the sandstone present in flysch turbidites and has a relatively high amount of clay or mud, sometimes earning the name of dirty sandstone. However, clay predominates in flysch deposits, and the graywacke layers are interbedded in the clay. Flysch is found all over the world and is dated mainly from the Paleozoic era (about 225-570 million years ago).

Modern geologists discarded the terms flysch sediments and geosyncline because rapidly formed megathick flysch is incompatible with uniformitarianism and long ages. However, in the last few years, the number of geologists abandoning the classical uniformitarian discipline and adopting the new catastrophism is almost a shock to observing creationists. Geologists are finally beginning to grudgingly agree with us creationists about the nature of the stratigraphic record, which is a record of major catastrophic events and not the slow year-by-year buildup suggested by uniformitarianism. Flysch deposits might be the sedimentary results of a global flood. The idea of geosynclines is unpopular because most geologists believe in plate tectonics.

Graded bedding is one of the main features of turbidity currents, in fact the terms are almost synonymous. Normal graded bedding is present in beds where the grain size is coarse at the base and gradually becomes fine at the top. However, graded bedding is only part of the turbidite sequence that Bouma identified and it is the popular model for turbidite deposits.2 The Bouma sequence consists of the following five levels going from the bottom of the bed to the top. Level A is massive or graded sandstone, sometimes having pebbles or mudripup clasts at the base, Level B is plane laminated sand. Level C is crosslaminated sand sometimes with ripples. Level D contains plane laminated silt or clay and Level E is non-laminated mud.

Each level represents different flow conditions or velocities. Levels D and E represent suspension deposits. While these five levels are the ideal, all five levels are not always present, depending on distance from the source and the nature of the source material. Investigation of fossils associated with turbidites often indicates that levels A, B and C contain benthonic (bottom dwelling) microfauna that dwell in shallow water and live on the continental shelf Levels D and E, on the other hand, contain deep marine microfauna such as radiolarians which settled out of suspension. This supports the understanding that the sands traveled in a turbidity current from shallow areas down to the deep marine continental rise or deep-sea basin.

Muds of Level D and E, containing deep sea microfauna are believed to have settled from fine clay-sized material in suspension following the deposition of the sand turbidity current. Turbidites are common all over the world. The first underwater flow that was attributed to a turbidity current occurred on the continental shelf off the coast of Grand Banks, Nova Scotia in 1929 . An earthquake triggered a turbidity current that over a period of several hours successively snapped transatlantic cables lying on the continental shelf Modem turbidites have flowed the full length of Lake Mead, where the gradient is only 1: 1000, supporting the view that turbidity currents can flow hundreds of kilometers from their source. Since geologists generally agree that the sandstone part of a turbidite (Levels A-C) settles rapidly, i.e., in tens of minutes, the logical question is to ask how long does it take for the mud in Levels D and E to deposit from suspension.

Uniformitarian evolutionists believe that the sedimentation rate for the muds is very slow, requiring tens or hundreds of millions of years for the formation. Holroyd discusses the problems that arise from this model.3 Holroyd says that the sedimentation rate for the uniformitarian model is very slow: a few micrometers per year for a 200 meter stratum assumed to be 50 million years old. At that minuscule rate most organisms of any size would rot and be scavenged long before they could be buried and fossilized. Many evolutionists recognize this problem and opt for periods of rapid sedimentation followed by long periods of non-sedimentation. The problem here is that when there is cessation of sedimentation erosion begins, causing gullies and channels and plant growth develops soils. Most flysch and turbidite deposits, however, show apparently continuous deposition and rarely show evidence of erosion. Furthermore, no layers of ancient soil with roots and other evidence of vegetation are found. This supports the view of rapid deposition of the entire flysch or turbidite formation. The widespread presence of turbidite deposits represents a fertile field for flood geologists not encumbered with uniformitarian and evolutionary bias to reinterpret the evidence of the rocks and uncover the truth of Earth’s early history.


In A New Look at the Dinosaurs, Alan Charig, Curator of Fossil Amphibians, Reptiles and Birds at the British Museum of Natural History gives the standard explanation for how animal remains become fossilized. He says:

“…when the dinosaur had died near a river or in a swamp it stood a much better chance of being preserved. Its body might sink into the mud on the spot, or floodwaters might sweep it into the river to float downstream and end up on a sandbar, on the bottom of a lake or even in the sea. The flesh would decay and the bones would gradually be covered by sediments–such as mud or sand–which are always accumulating in such places.”5

Atheist Immanuel Velikovsky wrote: “When a fish dies its body bloats on the surface or sinks to the bottom and is devoured rather quickly, actually in a matter of hours, by other fish. However, the fossil fish found in sedimentary rock is very often preserved with all its bones intact. Entire shoals of fish over large areas, numbering billions of specimens, are found in a state of agony, but with no mark of a scavenger’s attack. “The explanation of the origin of fossils by the theory of uniformity and evolution contradicts the fundamental principle of these theories: Nothing took place in the past that does not take place in the present Today no fossils are formed.”6

Which man, Velikovsky or Charig, more accurately describes the nature of the fossil record?


Individual fossils that traverse two or more sedimentary strata are polystrate fossils (poly meaning many; strate referring to strata or layers). In Lompoc, California, the fossil skeleton of a baleen whale was uncovered in a diatomaceous earth quarry. The Chemical & Engineering News report says, “The whale is standing on end in the quarry and is being exposed gradually as the diatomite is mined. Only the head and a small part of the body are visible as yet. The modern baleen whale is 80 to 90 feet long and has a head of similar size, indicating that the fossil may be close to 80 feet long.”7

Does this mean that many feet thick of diatomaceous earth represents either a major catastrophic event, such as a turbidity current, in which the whale was suddenly buried and was rapidly fossilized or does it mean that the remains of the whale spent an unknown length of time exposed to the elements, scavengers and decay processes while it was slowly buried by dying diatoms and silt before it fossilized. I can argue that it was buried suddenly and rapidly because many such polystrate fossils, from trees to trilobites, have been found all over the world. The best explanation is that they were buried rapidly. The evolutionary explanation is that the organisms were first slowly buried and fossilized in the usual manner, eroded out of the layer in which they were entombed, and then reburied by later periods of sedimentation in an upright position.

I don’t believe such fossils stood upright, perpendicular to the plane of sedimentation while they were reburied over long ages. This would have had to have happened many times and is very unlikely. Additionally, the above report on the whale says, “The diatomaceous earth must be taken from around the fossil with great care because the bones are fragile and disintegrate quickly when exposed to air.” This renders it even less likely this whale was ever previously uncovered.


John Blasdale asks: The article “Melting of wet lithosphere, ” Nature 358 (7-2-92), pp.20-21, enclosed in relation to my comments on seamounts, states that the addition of only a small amount of water (0.4%) reduces the melting point of the rocks on the lithosphere by a couple of hundred degrees–see p. 20, last paragraph. So, would the Earth have been flooded with lava if the water of the Flood had drained into the lithosphere? Or where else might the water have gone? And–if the water is said to have come from the lithosphere, why wasn’t Noah’s Earth flooded with lava instead?

–John Blasdale, Whippany, NJ

John, a Christian evolutionist and my friend, is asking where all the water for the Flood came from and where it went after the Flood was over. He does not believe Noah’s Flood was a global flood. According to the Bible, some of the water for the Flood came from the moisture held in a vapor canopy surrounding the Earth. No one knows how much water came from the rain, but some suggest that there had to be an upper limit on the quantity because of the amount of heat that would be released as the water vapor condensed into rain due to the latent heat of vaporization. Too much condensation would release too much heat and everything aboard the ark would die. The Bible also says that the fountains of the great deep burst open. An unknown amount of water came from these fountains. From what the Bible says, we do know that the water was 22.5 feet higher than all the high mountains over the whole earth.

We know that before the flood, it did not rain, but a mist (or flow) used to rise from the earth and water the whole surface of the ground. This mist was not dew, for dew would not provide enough water to keep things alive, nor would it provide enough run-off to keep the four rivers outside the Garden of Eden flowing. Two of those rivers are the Tigris and the Euphrates. Some suggest that the mist came from a system of underground reservoirs called aquifers. The physical characteristics of these aquifers are not known. How the water was stored and how the aquifers were replenished is also unknown. We do know that the Bible says there was a mist, robust enough to water the whole surface of the earth. The aquifers might have been a pressurized, worldwide sprinkling system with the pressure supplied by geothermal heat. Every kilometer in depth, the temperature rises 30°C.

Some speculate that when the fountains of the great deep burst open, the isostatic equilibrium of the continents was disrupted because the sudden burst of water and lava out of the earth was so great (The video, Evidences: The Record and the Flood produced by Loma Linda University geology professors through Geoscience Research Institute, has an excellent depiction of this. The video is available through Geoscience, Box II 19 Hagerstown, NM 21741 for $29.95 plus $4.50 shipping). This caused the continental land masses to bob downward and the oceans completely flooded the land surface. Because continental rock is less dense than the rock beneath it, the continents rose up again and the water rushed back into the ocean basins. Another creationist Flood model results from a computer model John Baumgardner produced, which shows runaway plate subduction. Drs. Steve Austin (ICR), Kurt Wise (ICR), Russ Humphreys (ICR) and Andrew Snelling (CSF) join Baumgardner in this model.

The mud flows and turbidity currents from all this would have been prodigious, fully capable of laying down immense conglomerates such as the Shinarump which covers an area of 100,000 square miles to a uniform thickness of about 50 feet. Some feel that the massive ejection of water and lava out of the earth evacuated gigantic underground chambers. The ceilings of these chambers then collapsed, giving the ocean basins even greater depth than before. Most of the water is in the deeper ocean basins and in the polar ice caps (no pre-Flood polar caps). Blasdale is aware that lava deposition is abundant all over the world. Anita and I like to drive on our vacations, and we have seen lava outcroppings and thick layers of lava throughout vast areas of the Western United States, from Colorado to Washington. It seems that it is everywhere, but it is much more abundant and extensive in certain areas such as the Mesa Basalt, which covers most of Oregon and parts of Washington, California, Idaho and Nevada. We know there are at least 50,000 extinct volcanoes, and some of these produced lava flows which may have covered more than 1.5 million square kilometers (580,000 sq. mi.) such as the Deccan Traps.8

The world of Noah’s day was inundated by water according to God’s eyewitness report in the Bible. Whether it was likewise flooded by lava, we do not know, since the Bible didn’t make a report on that, but there is lots of lava around. In another issue of Creation in the Crossfire, we mentioned that worldwide volcanism at the onset of the Flood and for many years afterwards may have helped set the stage for an ice age. The Bible says Noah’s world perished by water, but the volume of molten rock released when the Earth’s crust was ruptured as the great fountains of the deep burst forth was probably extensive. I know evolutionists assume that these extensive lava formations were the result of volcanic eruptions over millions of years, but there is no way to establish this. My friend, like most people, thinks that radiometric dating can show how old a lava rock is, but radiometric dating is extremely unreliable.

There are many assumptions which must be made, for example, how much daughter product was present when the rock formed, and there are many pitfalls in the dating process itself that compound the problem. When independent labs can vary as much as 100-500 million years for the same rock unit, something is very wrong. That kind of variance is not tolerated in clinical labs, why is it tolerated in geology labs? Why are geochronologists willing to overlook this or cover up the many discordant results, all the while publicly proclaiming great accuracy and precision for radiometric dating? (See Unreliability of Radiometric Dating)

Blasdale thinks young earth creationists are totally wrong about Noah’s flood, otherwise we would find fossilized terrestrial remains mixed with marine fossils. There are such mixtures. Harold Coffin writes, “The Tuscarora and Pocono sandstones in the Eastern United States, the Chinle and Moenkopi formations (which lie just above and below the Shinarump Conglomerate), and many other beds are even more extensive in area. Some are marine–that is, they contain marine fossils and thus might be more readily compared to modem ocean basins or shelves. Others, however, are either land or mixed marine and land formations, which are difficult to explain except by a catastrophe.” {4} There are numerous instances when the so-called oldest fossils are found with the alleged youngest fossils. Evolutionists attempt to explain this as an artifact due to erosion and relithification of the fossils so that the older fossil appears in the same rock as the younger. This is what they call contamination. I call it contamination too, but it is contamination that took place when marine and terrestrial animals were mixed together during the Flood. David Raup, curator at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago thought it funny that creationists kept trying to get their explanation of the perceived order of the fossils in the geologic column reconciled with the Flood. In a letter to Nature, Raup writes:

“One of the ironies of the evolution-creation debate is that the creationists have accepted the mistaken notion that tile fossil record shows a detailed and orderly progression and they have gone to great lengths to accommodate this ‘fact’ in their Flood geology.8

ONE FINAL NOTE: from what we’ve covered concerning catastrophic events, one cannot conclude that the flood waters were a homogenous, turbid mixture. That has been one mistake made by most theistic evolutionists who reject the global extent of the Flood.


1 Allen, J.R.L., 1991, The Bouma Division A and the Possible Duration of Turbidity Currents. Journal of Sedimentary Petrology, vol 6 1, no. 2, p. 291-295.

2 Bouma A.H., 1962, Sedimentology of some Flysch Deposits Amsterdam, Elsevier, p. 168

3 Holroyd, E.W., 1992, Comments on the Fossils of Dinosaur Ridge. Creation Research Society Quarterly. v. 29, no 1, p. 6-13. [Anita and I had the joy of driving past this ridge in August during a rain storm . Too bad we didn’t stop and look around–ed. Yeah. I’m a wimp!

4 Coffin, Harold G. and Robert H Brown, Origin by Design, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, DC, pp. 87-89, 1983, This book is available through Master Books 1-800-999-3777..

5 Charig, Alan, A New Look at the Dinosaurs, Facts On File, Inc., 1983, p.27

6 Velikovsky, Immanuel, Earth in Upheaval, Dell Publishing Co., Inc., New York p.209. This reference is for the paperback edition, not to be confused with the Doubleday and Co edition., 1955.

7 Reese, K.M., “Workers find whale in diatomaceous earth quarry,” Chemical & Engineering News, p. 40, Oct. 11, 1976. This report says that each discovery at the quarry is turned over to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to be used for public display and research at the museum. Members of our sister organization were able to handle these remains recently.

8 Krishnan, M.S., Geology of India and Burma, Madras, Higginbotthams, p.536,1968.

9 Raup, David M., Nature, 17 July 1981, p.289

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