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The Stratigraphic Record

30 June 2015

Derek Ager's book, 'The Nature of the Stratigraphic Record' (Halstead Press:1973) is a geological gem. It is written by somebody who has been described as a neo-catastrophist. Unfortunately, unlike astronomy, in geology a neo-catastrophist is a bit of a wet fish, a uniformitarian who is prepared to accept that natural disasters such as mega earthquakes and big volcanoes may have occurred. The idea that catastrophes with a cosmic dimension have also occurred is not an area they are prepared to delve into – too deeply. Okay, the K/T boundary event that witnessed the demise of the dinosaurs has been accepted – but not as a rapid event. It is masked in a long period, millions of years, of sedimentary build up that geologists do not accept was laid down quickly. The problem is that if they accept rapid sedimentation for one event and then field geologists would very rapidly find evidence of further rapid sedimentation which would completely undermine uniformitarianism.

At www.catastrophist.org/home/fire-planet/  … the founder of the journal Catastrophist Geology (now defunct), Han Kloosterman, got into an email exchange with Derek Ager a number of years ago. He takes issue with him according to the link above, and it emerges that Ager is far from what we might normally view as a neo-catastrophist and talks more like a uniformitarian settled science kind of person. The exchange of view is interesting if anyone wishes to read them.

Kloosterman emailed the authors of two studies. The first one was by Emiliani et al (Science, 1975) on sediment layers in the Gulf of Mexico which the author said may have been due to a short period of high temperature (via oxygen 18 isotopes in sediment). Emiliani went on to say this was unlikely and suggested the organism was behaving in a different manner to normal behaviour and sought to explain why this might be so. In other words, the evidence pointed to a short period of rapid change which Emiliani knew would not be welcome by the peer review team overseeing the publication of his research and so he sought to explain the anomaly in a uniformitarian context. Kloosterman contacted him asking for further information on the rapidity of the event and Emiliani was interested enough to take out a subscription to Catastrophist Geology.

The second set of emails involved Derek Ager who made a reference in his book to an article by Dr Michael Kerney (1964) who specialised in studying the chalk valleys of southern England. These dry valleys have lots of former sludge on the bottom – another example of sedimentation. Normally, the sludge is attributed to run-off during periglacial conditions but in this instance C14 methodology came up with a date that roughly corresponded to the Younger Dryas boundary – which is what sparked Kloosterman's interest as he had investigated this period over a number of years. In Holland and Germany it is known as the Usselo Horizon and is represented not just by sediment but also has a thin layer of charcoal derived from landscape fires. Kerney was also a specialist in the study of land snails – and the kind of environmental conditions they lived in (a field that has been used extensively to pinpoint vegetational changes, particularly on the chalk downs). Kerney's interpretation was that the sludge had accumulated very quickly and within the sludge was a dark or black layer of charcoal, just an inch or so in thickness. The black layer has been recognised at sites all over southern Britain (such as Pitstone on the Chilterns). The black colouration is due to charcoal derived from burnt wood. Whereas Kerney thought it was an event that occurred rapidly Ager dismissed the idea, making fun of the idea of a universal conflagration (not mentioned by Kerney and presumably for the amusement of his geology readers). It may also have been included as a warning to his students – not to think in terms of sudden and rapid catastrophic events (especially events that occur over a wide geographical horizon). Ager, like Emiliani, came up with a uniformitarian explanation – a series of brush fires were responsible (nothing on a dramatic scale in spite of the thin nature of the deposit and its almost universal occurrence). The snail fauna, he suggested, was due to a dry climate – and the dry climate was responsible for the brush fires. However, the  deposit is dated to the end of the Alleroed warm period (at the Younger Dryas boundary), or roughly so. The problem here is that the Younger Dryas event comes with a lengthy C14 plateau – but that is another story.

It seems we have lots of evidence of the Younger Dryas boundary event in Britain – but it has been ignored, or suppressed. Kloosterman also had a look at the snails. Whatever caused the fiery event (the charcoal layer) it was closely followed by an infestation of snails. Such events seem to occur after heavy rainfall. He suggests an abundance of snails in the chalk sludge indicates that torrential rain followed the fiery event – which is what you would expect if the event had a cosmic origin. Excess heat causes lots of evaporation – water is taken up into the atmosphere, and later is returned to the surface via heavy rainfall. This idea is a common feature of myth – and not least in the story of Alba/Albion, where the giant (in the sky) came too close to the earth and caused all the vegetation to dry up and ignite. Seeing the plight of humans at his behaviour the giant began to cry – and cried and cried (rained) until all the rivers and lakes flowed over and humans were once again in trouble. Various other myths portray a similar scenario.

Kloosterman pointed out to Ager that pasture in Brazil is regularly burnt off (brush fires) every year, and in some places this has been occurring for a couple of hundred years. Nowhere has it produced a charcoal rich layer.

Alfred de Grazia then chipped in with an Egyptian example of low Nile levels and a charcoal rich layer – dated around 10,550BC (which is close to the Younger Dryas boundary event).

PS … see the last issue of SIS Review for an overview of Kloosterman's research into the Usselo Horizon (SISR 2015:1)

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