A Few Silly Flaws In Walter Brown's Hydroplate Theory
by Joyce Arthur
copyright May, 1995
On Friday, March 24, 1995, creationist Walter Brown, Director of the Center for Scientific Creation in Phoenix, Arizona, spoke at a local Vancouver church to share his "hydroplate theory" with the audience.
According to the hydroplate theory, the Earth's crust once floated upon a thin layer of water which was under great pressure. The crust began to crack, allowing the water to come to the surface. Since the water was under great pressure, it shot out of the crust like fountains, possibly as high as twenty miles into the air, and rained down for about 40 days and 40 nights. The part of the earth's mantle where the crack began and spread, very quickly, buckled up and now forms the entire mid-Atlantic ridge. This geological formation divides the Atlantic ocean down the middle, all the way from Canada to the tip of South America. Brown claims the shape of the ridge bears the specific outlines of the continents' edges (the Americas, Europe, and Africa), which, after the flood, moved over the layer of water to their current geographical positions.
According to Brown, the hydroplate theory, along with the occurrence of a global flood, explains the origin of 17 major geological features on Earth, most or all of which he claims are unexplained by modern science. These features include ice ages, frozen mammoths, the mid-Atlantic ridge, submarine canyons, coal and oil formation, ocean trenches, mountains, guyots, the Grand Canyon, strata, salt domes, and volcanoes. However, most, if not all of these features are indeed explained quite well by modern science, so Brown is being less than forthright. Also, his hydroplate theory fails to explain a number of features which are explained by conventional plate tectonics, such as the data from magnetostratigraphy of the ocean crust, overlying sediments, and terrestrial lava flows, correlated with radio-isotope dating. In addition, a global flood scenario has serious problems explaining such things as arctic ice layers and fossil varves.
Brown is a young-earth creationist, so the cracking of the earth's crust and the ensuing flood must have happened only six or eight thousand years ago, and within the space of a few weeks (i.e., forty days and forty nights!). However, geology tells us that it took hundreds of millions of years for the continents to move to their current positions. Their current rate of movement has been measured at about 2 to 3 centimetres per year. In Brown's scenario, however, the continents must have been moving much faster, at least initially. Let's remember that if the continental plates were still moving rapidly after the flood waters had subsided, the earth would be unlivable due to tremendous earthquakes and volcanic activity. This means the continents must have slowed down considerably within a year after the flood, which is about the time Noah disembarked. If this is the case, we're talking about continental speeds of up to three meters per hour during the flood year! That something as huge as a continental plate could move that fast defies credulity. Therefore, the time factor alone destroys the credibility of Brown's theory.
I'm not a geologist, and it's difficult for me to comment on many other aspects of Brown's theory. So I sent out a couple of feelers through the Internet to see if anybody else had some insight into the plausibility of Brown's hypothesis. I found a geophysicist who had done a little analysis of the theory and who had discovered several basic errors of physics in it. Glenn Morton of Dallas, Texas, has a B.S. in Physics from Oklahoma University and makes his living searching for oil and gas. Interestingly enough, Morton is an old earth creationist, but unlike many other creationists, he is both able and willing to examine and critique the claims of other creationists. Morton worked out his refutation of Brown's theory in response to a creationist description of it on an Internet Usenet newsgroup called talk.origins. For the benefit of those creationists well versed in algebra, calculus, and geophysics (unlike Brown, apparently), Morton's Internet postings are reproduced below, verbatim, with some minor typographical corrections and clarifications. Perhaps other creationists can take a lesson from Morton and spend a bit more time critically analyzing the claims of their leaders.
"Are you really suggesting what I think you are? Let's go to physics class. As I understand your model, you have the earth constructed as follows: a solid center, a water layer, then above that, a layer of granite or basalt which 'floats' on the water. This is as shown below:
^ a mountain ps = 2.1 g/cc height = h
Earth's crust (granite 2.65 g/cc, or basalt 3.3 g/cc) Thickness = T
Water (density 1.0 g/cc) Thickness = tw
Earth center (solid density > 3.3)
There are several things to notice about this situation. First, the crust must be absolutely impermeable to the water. There must be no earthquakes before the flood since the first crack in this sphere would allow the water to escape. This means that there must be no meteorites before the flood. And heaven help mankind if he ever were to have drilled into the crust for curiosity's sake.
There must absolutely not have been any elevation differences. The effects of a load on the top of the crust can be seen from using an elastic sheet solution to the load. The 4th order differential equation is:
D---- + (pm-pw)zg = P(x)
P(x) is the load as a function of horizontal distance
z is the distance the load will sink
g is the acceleration of gravity
pm is the density of the crust
pw is the density of water
D = ET3 /(12(1-sig)^2
E is Young's modulus, 1011 dynes/cm^2
sig is Poison's ratio, .25
T is the thickness of the crustal layer into which the load sinks
For a two dimensional load with a ½ width, A, the bending of the crust is:
z max = h(ps-pw)(1-e-^LA cos(LA)) / (pm-ps)
L = 4th root ((pm-pw) g) / (4D))
With a crust thickness of 5 km (5 x 10^5 cm) sig = .25, E = 10^11, we have:
D = 1.1 x 1028
L = 4.37 x 10-7
Now, for a mountain 10 km (1.10^6 cm) in radius and 5 km (5 x 10^5 cm) in height (h), the minimum thickness of the crust must be:
A crust thinner than this value will be completely broken by the weight of the mountain.
The bending of the crust by 4.1 km will occur by fracture. This would immediately release the water. Thus, there are no mountains. Even a hill one kilometre high would require that the crust bend by 830 meters.
Therefore, the crust must be perfectly smooth. Thus, you must violate the Biblical record where it says that all the high mountains were covered. In your conception of the flood, there could be no mountains or hills.
Secondly, in your model, you must have pillars to retain the physical connection with the core. If you do not do this, you will have the certainty that the crust will eventually crash into the core. Friction between the crust and the water and the water and the core will cause the outer crust to begin to move in a fashion different to that of the earth's interior. This would cause turbulence and would lead to a crash. The crust is free to move in relation to the core in response to tidal forces. The theoretical height h of the equilibrium tide in a rigid earth is:
h = .5 (M/E)(a/R)^3 a(3cos^2 (theta)-1)
E is the mass of the earth
M is the mass of the moon, 1 and .123 respectively
a is the radius of the earth 6378 km
R is the distance from the earth's center to the moon's center, 384,405 km
theta is the angle between the moon and the zenith
Plugging these values into the equation we have h = .00358 km, or h = 3.58 meters. This means that your crust will heave every day by this value. Due to the fact that neither granite nor basalt are single crystalline materials, small fractures will develop in between the individual crystals.
Suppose you placed the water under 5 km of crust, the pressure of the water would be:
5 x 10^5 * 980 * 2.65 = 1.29 x 10^9 dynes = 1281 atmospheres of pressure
The temperature gradient is 1º C for every 30 m so there is a 166º C increase in temperature as we go deeper.
166 + 25º C (the surface temperature) = 191º C
A layer of cave water 2 km thick all around the earth would contain 1 x 10^24 cubic centimeters of water. At 191ºC, the high temperature water would contain 1.7 x 10^26 calories. (1 calorie per degree rise (166 degree rise)). The minute the pressure is released the water will turn to steam and you will cook the earth. Dividing the calories by the surface area of the earth shows that:
heat /cm^2 = 1.7 x 10^26 Calories/5 x 10^14 square cms = 3.3 x 10^7 Cal/cm^2
I don't think Noah could survive this. This is a poor mechanism for a flood.
I have seen the IPOD* seismic line, every inch of it, and there is absolutely no evidence of any residual buried water or deeply buried cave to hold the water. There are no indications of collapse structures of the size your model would require anywhere on any seismic data I have ever examined in the past 22 years.
Brown has a 10 km thick granite crust with a 1 km thick layer of water. The pressure is enough to raise a tube of water to 17 km (see Brown, pg. 37, Fountains of the Deep). Water squirting up out of the hole will rise to that level. What is the velocity of the water coming out of the crack? Ignoring friction, this can be found by equating the potential energy of the drops at 17 km to the kinetic energy at the surface needed to propel the water that high. Thus:
gh = .5v^2
h is the height of the water, 17 km
v is the velocity
g is the acceleration due to gravity, 9.8
Solving for v, we have v = 577 meters /sec. According to the steam table cited below, there is a 814 times increase of volume in the phase change. The vapor occupies 814 times more volume.
Now, According to Steam Tables (Combustion Engineering Inc., 1940), the pressure needed to keep water a liquid at 250º F, which is the temperature of Brown's water, is 2.02 atmospheres.
Consider a 1 square meter tube with 577 cubic m/s emanating from it. Due to the fact that 2.02 atmosphere is the weight of 20 meters of water, water coming up the crack will not change to steam until the final 20 meters. With the velocity of 577 meters per second coming out of the crack, this means that 577 cubic meters each second will occupy 814 times the volume that it used to. As a water surface passes the point at which it turns into vapor, it will, within one second, be pushed 577 x 814 = 469,779 m. This is a velocity of 469 kilometers per second. There would be no flood since none of the vapor would remain on the earth. The earth's escape velocity is about 11 kilometers per second. Any object that exceeds 11 km per second leaves the earth and never returns. How could this theory cause a flood?
In reality these numbers would be somewhat smaller due to frictional effects, but even if they are off by 99%, the steam escaping is still above escape velocity for the earth. The steam would be sent to Alpha Centauri!!"
(End of Morton's posts.)
(Glenn Morton can be reached via E-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Brown's theory is a rare example of a creationist actually trying to formulate a scientific theory. This would be quite commendable, were it not for the fact that Brown's main objective is to make sure his theory is in accord with Genesis and the Biblical flood, regardless of conflicting evidence. This is not scientific. However, if creationists use the methods of science, albeit imperfectly, to try and demonstrate the "facts" of creationism, they should be willing to accept and respond to scientific criticism of their theories, whether it be from evolutionists or iconoclast creationists like Morton. Peer review is part of what science is all about. An inability to respond on an appropriate scientific level would make any creationist theory suspect.
With that in mind, I invite creationists to examine Morton's refutations of Brown's theory and respond to them, if they can. For those interested in learning more about Brown's theory, he has written about it in the new sixth edition of his book, In the Beginning: Compelling Evidence for Creation and the Flood. It is available for $22.95 U.S. (postage and handling included) from the Center for Scientific Creation, 5612 N. 20th Place, Phoenix, Arizona, 85016.
* The IPOD seismic line stretches from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to the mid-Atlantic ridge. IPOD stands for International Project for Offshore Drilling. Maps of the IPOD seismic line are available from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Walter T. Brown, The Fountains of the Deep, Proceedings of the First International Conference on Creationism (Pittsburgh: Creation Science Fellowship, 1986), p. 23-38.
For Young's Modulus and Poison's Ratio, see Milton Dobrin's Introduction to Geophysical Prospecting, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1952, p. 178.
For the Elastic Equation, see Philip Keary and Frederick J. Vine, Global Tectonics, Boston: Blackwell Scientific Publications, 1990, p. 35.
Tide is from Charles B. Officer, Introduction to Theoretical Geophysics, New York: Springer-Verlag, 1974, p. 340.
Steam Tables, New York: Combustion Engineering Inc, 1940, p. 5.
Temperature Gradient is from O. M. Phillips' The Heart of the Earth, San Francisco: Freeman & Cooper, 1968, p. 138.