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Prehistory and Earth Models

Melvin A. Cook

Professor of Metallurgy, University of Utah
President, IRECO Chemicals, Salt Lake City







    View (northwest-ward) of an Arcuate 'Welt' at Wasatch-Uinta Juncture -- Probably due to Southwest-ward (Ice Sheet-Driven) Overthrusts PHOTOGRAPH BY J M HESLOP, DESERT NEWS CAMERA EDITOR. Frontispiece

  1. Evidence for Catastrophism in the Grand Canyon
  2. Further evidence for Catastrophism in the Grand Canyon
  3. Welt-side Terminus and Alluvial Fans of Thrust Sheet in Southwest Colorado
  4. Welt-Side Terminus and Alluvial Fans in South Africa Near Phalaborwa
  5. Thrust Blocks North of Kaibab and the Grand Canyon
  6. Ice Sheet Surfaces on Northeast Slopes of Wind River Mountains
  7. Ice Sheet Surfaces on Northeast Slopes of Uinta Mountains
  8. The Wasatch Welts
  9. The Wasatch--Uinta and the East African Welts in Two Great Shield to Welt Complexes
  10. Glacial Trough Cutting Directly Through Thrust Sheet
  11. Linearly-gouged Shield in Labrador
  12. Coal Deposits and the Map of Pangaea


THE author is a physical chemist (PhD, Yale, 1937) with a career in explosives, high velocity impact, solid state, surface chemistry and related problems in chemistry, physics and metallurgy, but no formal training in geology, having studied it only by self discipline for the past decade. The present volume is, therefore, the work of 'an outsider'. His interest in the problems concerning earth science became strong after discovery of evidence that the earth's atmosphere may not be in steady state as far as radiocarbon is concerned even though only about 30,000 years are required to establish this steady state as shown by Libby. Presentation of this evidence in open forums usually met with vigorous debate. In order, therefore, to provide the facts pertaining to this and related matters, the bulletin 'Geological Chronometry' [Cook, 1956] was presented. It made available for careful study arguments on this matter presented in lectures given in the Geology Department, University of Utah in 1955.One of the more interesting arguments concerned the helium balance of the earth and its implications concerning age, which was later published [Cook, 1957]. An attempt to publish another manuscript giving direct evidence for the short-time chronometry of the atmosphere and oceans entitled 'Anomalous Chronometry in the Atmosphere and Hydrosphere', not unexpectedly nor without some cause, met with considerable opposition and was not published. Interestingly enough, the apparent fact that radiocarbon is not in steady state in the atmosphere was the main objection. Lingenfelter [1963] was only recently able to point this out.

Chapters I to IV, inclusive, are the updated result of studies on problems of 'geologic time' which it is hoped have taken full account of all objective criticism so far obtained. The author's conclusion based on this work, is that there really are no reliable time clocks despite an almost overwhelming contrary opinion.

During the course of this study of geologic time, considerable new information and experimental results of IGY were coming to the forefront, suggesting that continental drift may no longer be an unacceptable theory but rather a fairly well-supported one. This all tended to generate further interest and belief in the original contention. The big question in the author's mind was: how were geologic time and uniformitarianism going to survive an established continental drift, which would seem to strike at the very foundations of Historical Geology?' Geologists had previously postulated the concept of growing continents, and their models of sedimentation depended on this concept. Now they were confronted with a permanent, previously unbroken -- prior to the split of Pangaea - granitic crust that has really scarcely been touched by erosion during the entire history of the earth.

After considerable study of continental drift, a bulletin summarized arguments that great ice sheets may be responsible for continental drift ['Continental Dynamics', 1961]. Some of the ideas outlined in this bulletin were later expanded and published [Cook and Eardley, 1961; Cook, 1963]. These developments are presented in a somewhat expanded form in Chapters V and VI, Chapters VII and VIII presenting the qualitative and some quantitative aspects of this model of continental drift. A paper entitled 'Analysis of Crustal Stresses and Continental Drift in an Ice Cap Model' was presented at a National meeting of American Geophysical Union 171963]. It is reproduced in expanded form in Chapter VII. One (written) comment on this paper by Dr J. C. Jaeger was as follows:

The author has produced a very interesting idea, which this referee has not met before, namely that the stresses caused by the load and flow of a large ice cap might be sufficient to cause the break-up of a continent postulated in many theories of continental drift.

'This is an important idea and well worth working out quantitatively, since these stresses certainly exist, and, even if they were not adequate in themselves to cause break-up, they might be when added to stresses from other sources (e.g. convection).'

While one would think that the mere acceptance of continental drift would be sufficient to upset the previous concepts of prehistory, this has apparently not even been suggested. Still a full comprehension of the catastrophic implications of continental drift, especially under an ice cap model -- the only one yet developed which can account for the required forces -- seems to the author to insure this ultimate result. That the catastrophic ice cap model of continental drift probably does no real violence to the facts and observations is

indicated by the discussions in Chapters IX and X amplified from the author's paper concerning continental drift [1961] dealing largely with geographical and geological facts marshalled from a number of the best, most modem books available to the author and reinterpreted in the ice cap model of continental drift.

Chapters XI and XII represent a catastrophic viewpoint concerning the origin of coal, oil and gas. Coal, oil and gas occurrences seem to the author to be much more realistic under the ice cap model than under the conventional uniformitarianism.

Chapter XIII deals with some modern developments concerning crustal distortions, over-thrusting and rock mechanics that also seem to require catastrophism. Chapter XIV outlines evidences based on palaeomagnetism, and finally, Chapters XV and XVI present the modern interpretation and a critique of the author on life, fossils and evolution.

The fact should be considered noteworthy that a catastrophic model is possible apparently conforming well with known facts and accounting for the earth's morphology at least in its broader aspects. There are really many modern discoveries that seem to require consideration of catastrophes much more prominently than scientists have been willing to admit in the past. In this regard an interesting note by a prominent Paleontologist, Dr Norman Newell [Newsweek, Dec. 23, 1963], emphasized the need for catastrophic models and advocated the coining of a new word to permit thinking in terms both of catastrophic and uniformitarian concepts. While this volume emphasizes catastrophe, this should not be viewed as an attempt to focus attention entirely away from uniformitarianism, because slow and uniform changes obviously do occur, though they may be more than offset at times by catastrophes.

The discovery that the atmosphere, oceans and rocks of the crust may all be relatively young carries, of course, a strong implication that the earth also may be young. This implication, however, is denied by the author. Surface features of the earth are subject to rapid and catastrophic changes that tend to erase all history predating such events. The relative time analyses presented in this volume deal, therefore, only with specific surface features after these several or more catastrophes. The author has seen no way to date the earth as a whole, since the evidence presented herein denies that there is a sound basis for assigning it an age of 4.5 billion years based on the U--Th--Pb time clocks. Such evidence as that discussed in Chapter IV

would indicate that the universe itself may be even older than 4.5 billion years. In fact, because an expanding universe concept seems to the author to be ruled out by energy considerations, he would assign an infinite age to the universe and deny an explosive origin. This would mean that the materials of which the earth is comprised have always existed though they are subject to changes even as drastic as inter-conversions between light and matter.

As far as the earth itself is concerned, how long it has existed in globular form is a matter completely outside the knowledge and possible objective discussions of the author. The earth may be as old as the universe itself, it may have formed from other bodies of the universe, it may simply have condensed from materials ejected in gaseous and plasma form from other bodies or it may have condensed from the materials of interstellar space. The reader is, therefore, asked simply to consider each specific problem of discussion as pertaining only to that feature of the earth's surface (lithosphere, atmosphere or hydrosphere) to which each such discussion applies.

On the other hand a very interesting implication of this study is that not only are the sedimentary rocks relatively young, but also, therefore, are their occluded fossils. This implication, based on what the author considers to be hard facts, has an important bearing on the prehistory of life. The problem here is of real and important concern. Such a serious implication should not be ignored by biological and earth scientists.