Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

Incl. intelligent design, belief in divine creation

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Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#1  Postby Itsdemtitans » Feb 04, 2017 8:08 pm

Hey guys!

I took a much needed break from these forums for a few months to straighten out some things in my life, but I'm back! I figured I'd continue my series of posts on geologic features which are inconsistent with the fabled Fluddle of creationists. Today's post is a little complex, and is gonna be somewhat longer than the others, so bear with me.

A little over a year ago, I wrote a short blog post on a geologic technique called Chemostratigraphy, and it's implications for creationists, over at the League of Reason forum. Needless to say, it's a bit of a thorn in the side for them. But it's gone largely unaddressed by them, and it's obvious why.

But some of you are probably wondering just what the heck Chemostratigraphy even is, I'm guessing :lol:.

Well, simply put, Chemostratigraphy is the study of the chemical variations within sedimentary sequences to determine stratigraphic relationships. Chemostratigraphers can use the ratios of certain stable isotopes, such as Carbon 12 or 13, to determine the chemical make ups of rocks and use their chemical "fingerprint" for stratigraphic correlation. This is because the isotope ratios will record certain events from the time periods when the rocks were laid down, such as the carbon levels in the ocean. (1.)

What does this have to do with Young-Earth Creationism? Well, it actually allows us to scientifically test their ideas of Flood Geology, a central part of YEC.

You see, according to creationists, the vast majority of Earth's fossil bearing rocks are remnants for Noah's flood. Most now place the start of the "Flood layers" at the Cambrian, going all the way up to the Quaternary, which is "Post-Flood." This means that all the fossils between these two points originally lived at the same time. Their sorting in the rock record can only be due to physical or ecological reasons, not time. "Fossils were buried where they lived, not when," as some like to say.

Chemostratigraphy allows us to test this idea, though, rather easily in fact. How? By analysing the carbon isotope ratios in animals with calcareous shells, such as trilobites, conodonts, etc.

Under the YEC model, all of these animals originally lived in the same pre-flood ocean. That means they all made their shells from the same source of carbon. Because isotopes are spread out fairly evenly across the oceans due to currents, that means that when we analyze the carbon ratios of their shells, we should see roughly the same isotope ratio in all of them.

The problem is, we don't.

Veizer et al., 1999, (2.) tested over 2,000 shells of conodonts, brachiopods, and the like, from all continents but Antarctica, and analyzed them for their Carbon isotope ratios, among other things. The time frame they studied was from Cambrian to Cretaceous. Below is a graph showing the trend of carbon isotopes they found:

Image

The graph shows that the carbon-isotope ratio in carbonate fossils—and therefore the ocean itself—varied substantially over the past 500 million years. This is in direct conflict with what one would expect had these fossils all been laid down by a single flood.

So there we go. Flood Geology made a simple, testable prediction. It did not pass.

Young-Earth organizations have not addressed this glaring issue, to my knowledge, despite the fact that it's been around for a few years now. However, I've taken the liberty of thinking up a few possible YEC responses, with rebuttals listed below.

1. The flood caused wild variations in isotopes, creating the observed pattern.

This hypothetical would involve calcite minerals forming continuously during the Flood (creating all kinds of whacky patterns), with the lime mud burying shelled organisms (like trilobites/brachiopods) that were already alive at the onset of the Flood. In that case, however, we should find little or no trend when analyzing only fossils, and potentially some patterns when analyzing the calcite matrix. The fact that chemostratigraphic patterns are the same between fossils and matrix concludes a very definitive test, demonstrating that these geochemical signals reflect the shifting chemistry of ancient oceans over very long periods of time.

2. The pattern in fossils results from contamination during the flood.

This is an easy idea to falsify. Contamination would only create a wild, inconsistent pattern. It would not create a pattern that could be correlated globally. However, the pattern of carbon-isotope variations from Cambrian to Quaternary is roughly the same across the entire globe. Whether you’re sampling rocks from Texas or Tanzania, layers of limestone determined to be the same age according to their fossil content also exhibit the same pattern of δ13C values over time. These values are invariably high for Permian-aged carbonates and invariably low for Ordovician-aged carbonates.

Thus, contamination is ruled out.

3. The fossils lived in different basins with different isotope ratios, leading to different isotope levels.

This argument is flawed in many ways.

For one thing, this would require the pre-flood ocean have little to no circulation in the form of currents in order for these unique basins to exist. However, ocean currents are important for circulating nutrients, heat, and oxygen. Many geologists and paleontologists cite changes or slowing of currents at major causes for extinction for this reason. A complete lack of ocean circulation would be very detrimental to the survival of anything in the ocean.

Of course, YECs could cry "MIRACLE!!" to get around this, but that's not science, and isn't valid.

Even granting unique basins, however, this idea is still falsified by the observed patterns of isotopes.

If variations between one part of the ocean and another could account for trends in carbon isotopes, then we shouldn’t find the same temporal trends in different parts of the world (e.g. China vs. North America vs. Australia). On the contrary, the relative change in carbon isotopes correlates well from one site to the next. And we know the Flood could not transport these animals worldwide and deposit them by isotope ratios only! Not only does that defy common sense, but it also strips them of their "Ecological Zonation" sorting mechanism, which they desperately need.

This excuse, too, fails.

4. There are regional variations in the isotope records, thus they likely are not true global trends.

Regional variations don’t detract from the establishment of a global trend, quite simply because we know that 1) certain environments have local controls on isotopic values, which are superimposed on the global trend, 2) many isotopic excursions are associated with sea-level change, which may cause a hiatus in deposition, and 3) each region has its own burial history, and post-burial diagenesis can alter or blur the isotopic trend.

Given these potential difficulties, it’s rather impressive how well chemostratigraphy works in correlating sedimentary sections around the world. The SPICE event, for instance, is unmistakably global, despite these issues (4.). Many other events are as well, so the problem for Flood Geology still stands strong.

5. The data is faked by secularists to hide the truth of Noah's flood.

Yeah, right. And NASA dumped Saturn V engines into the Atlantic just in case people went looking for proof we went to the moon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

Anyways, hope you all enjoyed! Comments and criticisms welcome!

References:
1. http://questioninganswersingenesis.blog ... or-to.html
2. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/ar ... 4199000819
3.https://ageofrocks.org/2014/08/23/chemo ... d-geology/
4.https://ageofrocks.org/2014/08/27/the-s ... bon-cycle/
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#2  Postby bert » Feb 05, 2017 10:40 pm

Hi Itsdemtitans :-)

I always love your posts. Thanks for this one too!

Question: Why does the ratio vary? I'd expect it to be constant: We have a supply of carbon on earth, and that is it. Is it a temperature related thing (and if so, what is the mechanism)?

Bert
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#3  Postby Itsdemtitans » Feb 06, 2017 12:13 am

bert wrote:Hi Itsdemtitans :-)

I always love your posts. Thanks for this one too!

Question: Why does the ratio vary? I'd expect it to be constant: We have a supply of carbon on earth, and that is it. Is it a temperature related thing (and if so, what is the mechanism)?

Bert


Hey Bert! Great question.

You're right we only have one supply of total carbon, but the ratio of 13C and 12C can vary depending on if one is being added or removed faster than the other. The biggest mechanisms for this is the burial of organic carbon (carbon in the form of living tissue, like whale remains, algae, etc.) and the formation of limestone.

Organic carbon, by itself, tends to have a larger amount of 12C to 13C. This is because 12C, otherwise called "light" carbon, is because photosynthetic organisms that form the base of the food chain have an easier time absorbing 12C from CO2 due to it's lighter mass.

So, lets say all of a sudden, there's an extinction event, and lots of organisms in the oceans die and get buried under marine sediment. All their carbon is now trapped, isolated from the ocean waters. Suddenly, a large portion of 12C has been removed, and so the ratio of 13C/12C will shift. If you look at major extinction events in the fossil record, you'll see they're almost all accompanied by radical shifts in carbon ratio. That's no coincidence!

The formation limestone actually has the opposite preference, in that it likes to take more 13C as opposed to 12C. Because limestone formation is slow, and most of the time animals aren't dying in huge numbers, the ratio stays somewhat constant, giving everything enough time to recycle. But if you have, say, a shift in ocean currents which suddenly makes the oceans warmer and have a better mixing of nutrients that causes an increase in algae production (and thus burial of carbon), or changes in climate make the formation of limestone easier, it becomes fairly easy for the oceans 13C/12C ratio to tip in either direction.

Hope that makes sense!
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#4  Postby Thommo » Feb 06, 2017 1:01 am

Interesting read, thanks for posting! :thumbup:
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#5  Postby Fenrir » Feb 06, 2017 1:08 am

I have recently discovered there are smarty bums reconstructing the climatic history of various places using isotope analysis of chemicals from the wax on leaves deposited in marine sediments.

Really cool stuff. The only shame is yecs and fellow travellers will never begin to understand they are at Mariana Trench levels out of their depth.
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#6  Postby aban57 » Feb 06, 2017 10:31 am

Very interesting read, thanks :)
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#7  Postby bert » Feb 06, 2017 5:40 pm

Thanks for your reply Itsdemtitans! Call me slow but let me try to digest that.

Let me start with something I do understand (a bit; I used to be a biochemist in a previous life) which is an interesting thing to know and perhaps relevant for the discussion. Scientists can distinguish sugar from sugar cane and from sugar beets, even though it is chemically 100% the same. Interestingly, the isotopic carbon ratio differs. There is a group of plants that catch CO2 using a so-called C3 mechanism (the relevant molecule has 3 carbon atoms), while another group uses a different route, the C4 mechanism (you guessed it; the relevant molecule has 4 carbon atoms). As it happens, the enzymes involved in each group have a slightly different preference for the CO2 involved (the catalytic cavity is so well adapted that the minute difference in bond length has a tiny but measurable effect; or something).

Now, back to what you tried to explain to me. AFAIK the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is minute compared to the amount available differently. I can image that there is some kind of preference of one type over the other. So, in the atmosphere (but nowhere else) one type builds up by a tiny bit. If there is a release of CO2 (say, lots of decay), it is mostly the other type that is released, so we do get a change. OK. If it is locked away from the cycle (e.g. frozen in limestone), then it no longer plays a role and we have a relatively higher ratio. Got it, I think!

However, I can't help thinking that different (climate) situations favor different groups of plants, and that they play a role here too. AFAIK sugar cane is a C4 plant and well, as you know, it favors high temperatures. Let's not rely one my memory (learned this stuff 30 years ago) and see what Google turns up. And there it is:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C4_carbon_fixation

Yes, can't remember new stuff but can recall old stuff. I"m officially old now! Wait, I digress.

So, I posit that there is a correlation between the graph that you showed and the temperature in geological time (which hopefully could be deduced through other manners). Can you expand on that?

Bert
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#8  Postby Itsdemtitans » Feb 07, 2017 1:40 am

bert wrote:Thanks for your reply Itsdemtitans! Call me slow but let me try to digest that.

Let me start with something I do understand (a bit; I used to be a biochemist in a previous life) which is an interesting thing to know and perhaps relevant for the discussion. Scientists can distinguish sugar from sugar cane and from sugar beets, even though it is chemically 100% the same. Interestingly, the isotopic carbon ratio differs. There is a group of plants that catch CO2 using a so-called C3 mechanism (the relevant molecule has 3 carbon atoms), while another group uses a different route, the C4 mechanism (you guessed it; the relevant molecule has 4 carbon atoms). As it happens, the enzymes involved in each group have a slightly different preference for the CO2 involved (the catalytic cavity is so well adapted that the minute difference in bond length has a tiny but measurable effect; or something).

Now, back to what you tried to explain to me. AFAIK the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is minute compared to the amount available differently. I can image that there is some kind of preference of one type over the other. So, in the atmosphere (but nowhere else) one type builds up by a tiny bit. If there is a release of CO2 (say, lots of decay), it is mostly the other type that is released, so we do get a change. OK. If it is locked away from the cycle (e.g. frozen in limestone), then it no longer plays a role and we have a relatively higher ratio. Got it, I think!


Yep, you've got the gist of it!

bert wrote: However, I can't help thinking that different (climate) situations favor different groups of plants, and that they play a role here too. AFAIK sugar cane is a C4 plant and well, as you know, it favors high temperatures. Let's not rely one my memory (learned this stuff 30 years ago) and see what Google turns up. And there it is:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/C4_carbon_fixation

Yes, can't remember new stuff but can recall old stuff. I"m officially old now! Wait, I digress.

So, I posit that there is a correlation between the graph that you showed and the temperature in geological time (which hopefully could be deduced through other manners). Can you expand on that?


This is a good point, Bert! However, I'm not so sure how much of an affect this would have.

As far as we can tell from the fossil record, per your own link, plants using the C4 pathway evolved about 35 million years ago. Before that, all the plants we see seem to belong to genera that utilize the C3 pathway. Given that the graph I posted spans the time period of 541-65 mya, I'm not so sure that temperature would have had that big of an effect in the way you describe. Of course, I could be missing something. Perhaps plants using the CAM pathway could have some effect, I'm not sure though.

But anyways, I took another look at the paper I cited earlier, and found something interesting.

We can actually use the ratio of Oxygen 16 and Oxygen 18 as a proxy for temperature. This is because Oxygen 16 evaporates more easily than Oxygen 18, and during cold periods, that means more Oxygen 18 rich water will be frozen by glaciers. Now, Oxygen chemostratigraphy is a little more tricky, as it's more prone to contamination. But if carefully done, it's very useful.

That same paper I got the graph from also measured the ratio of O16/O18 in their shells and whole rocks. If temperature was a factor for the carbon cycle, I'd expect that the Oxygen ratio would roughly follow the same trend as the carbon ratio (though with more variance, as it's sensitive to more factors). Turns out, they found just that. There was a general increase in both Oxygen and Carbon ratio's to a more positive number over the Phanerozoic, though they did fluctuate with ice ages and extinction events respectively.

So your idea may have some merit! I'm just not to certain what the cause of that would be, given there's no evidence for the existence of C4 pathway plants in that time period.
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#9  Postby Calilasseia » Feb 07, 2017 1:54 pm

Indeed, I've used the differential 13C carbon content of organisms in the past, to allow us to determine whether or not they had a trophic link to C3 or C4 plants, courtesy of the fact that the difference is amplified in consumers of those plants, and amplified further in predators on those consumers. So, differential 13C content is also useful in determining the likely diet of various fossil organisms.

But as you've noted above, differential 13C content is also useful in other areas. One area in which I've seen it applied, is the "Snowball Earth" hypothesis for the Neoproterozoic. During periods of hyperglaciation in the Neoproterozoic, photosynthesis was effectively shut down, and enrichment of the atmosphere with 13C came to a halt, which correlates with the isotopic signature of carbonate sediments deposited during the requisite hyperglaciation eras. Once volcanoes increased the atmospheric CO2 content to the point where heat retention melted the ice, photosynthesis restarted among surviving micro-organisms, and 13C enrichment of the atmosphere restarted, resulting in changes of isotopic signature in carbonate sediments deposited during the thermal retention eras.

There's a nice Scientific American article on the Neoproterozoic, which you can download for free here.

Oh, and as for creationist notions that everything from the Cambrian to the Quaternary was deposited by their fantasy "global flood", can they explain why there are no Precambrian mammals? Only according to their ridiculous assertions, any stratum earlier than the Cambrian pre-dated their fantasy "global flood", and according to their ridiculous mythology, there were humans and other mammals alive at that time. Except that oops, there weren't. For most of the Precambrian, fossils consist of micro-organisms, with the first multicellular eukaryotes appearing around 1200 MYa, and the most sophisticated organisms prior to the Cambrian being the Ediacaran Halucigenia and allies. Nothing even remotely resembling a mammal appears in those strata.
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#10  Postby TopCat » Feb 07, 2017 4:35 pm

Calilasseia wrote:Nothing even remotely resembling a mammal appears in those strata.

ISTR reading somewhere that they explain that by suggesting that they all ran to higher ground to avoid the rising flood waters.

There. I said it with a straight face. Almost. :cheers:
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#11  Postby bert » Feb 07, 2017 7:46 pm

OK, so C4 plants are too recent and not relevant in this discussion. But it does show the point that enzymes are sensitive to the carbon isotope (or C=O bond length).
I can feel it in my fingers, I can feel it in my bones (wait, that's from a song in the movie Love Actually) that even for a given C3 enzyme there could be an isotopic temperature effect because the temperature of the enzyme will affect the size/shape of its cavity, however minute.

That should be testable, by growing two shoots of the same plant (so, effectively a clone; i.e. genetically identical) at different temperatures (do mind that just a greenhouse for one is not representative as they both need the same amount of fresh air).

There are (indeed) oxygen isotopes as well, and in CO2 there may be minute differences in C=O bond length that similarly have an effect.

Bert
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#12  Postby Animavore » Feb 07, 2017 7:54 pm

Interesting stuff yet again.

Can you do one next called, "Gymnosporia: A thorn in the side for Creationism"?
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#13  Postby Calilasseia » Feb 07, 2017 8:53 pm

TopCat wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:Nothing even remotely resembling a mammal appears in those strata.

ISTR reading somewhere that they explain that by suggesting that they all ran to higher ground to avoid the rising flood waters.

There. I said it with a straight face. Almost. :cheers:


The ones that died and were buried beforehand couldn't do that though, could they? Which is precisely the point I was making.
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#14  Postby Animavore » Feb 07, 2017 9:03 pm

Calilasseia wrote:
TopCat wrote:
Calilasseia wrote:Nothing even remotely resembling a mammal appears in those strata.

ISTR reading somewhere that they explain that by suggesting that they all ran to higher ground to avoid the rising flood waters.

There. I said it with a straight face. Almost. :cheers:


The ones that died and were buried beforehand couldn't do that though, could they? Which is precisely the point I was making.

Maybe they rose from the dead prematurely, thinking the commotion was the The Second Coming, ran when they saw a wave heading towards them, then got buried again further up hill.

It's as good an answer as they'd give.
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#15  Postby Calilasseia » Feb 08, 2017 1:43 am

Except of course that the supposed "First Coming" was 2,000 years or more in the future when the fantasy "global flood" was supposed to have happened ... which is why I'd point and laugh at any creationist suggesting this seriously :)
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Re: Chemostratigraphy: A thorn in the side for Creationism

#16  Postby Oeditor » Feb 12, 2017 3:26 pm

Itsdemtitans wrote:As far as we can tell from the fossil record, per your own link, plants using the C4 pathway evolved about 35 million years ago. Before that, all the plants we see seem to belong to genera that utilize the C3 pathway.
Maybe the C4 mechanism is a result of the Fall. Bad stuff, that cane sugar! Still, it gives the Cretinists a way to date said Fall if they can ever be persuaded to abandon their Fludde!
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