The Great Flood

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“Well, Sherman, set the Wayback Machine for 1961.” I’ll treat you a cup of Starbuck’s finest if you are an old enough intestinal gas bubble to get the reference. January of 1961 saw the ascendency of the best and brightest to the throne room of Washington DC, a nova burst of French sensibility in the American scene unaccountably called Camelot. While Camelot disappeared with the rifle shots of Lee Harvey Oswald, the best and brightest as well as their Francophile sensibility remained, colonizing our Capitol. They have been our overlords ever since.

1961 was the time of the Cold War. It was only a short time later, in April, before we had our first taste of the best and brightest’s leadership at the Bay of Pigs. As the Soviet’s took the measure of our best and brightest they understandably grew bold.  In August of that year, we were stunned by the virtually instantaneous appearance of the Berlin Wall, followed in October by the Soviet test of Tsar Bomba, a 50 megaton H-Bomb. There is a You Tube video of the Tsar Bomba Test that you might want to check out. It truly deserves the word “awesome”.

Upon watching the video, one begins to understand Robert Oppenheimer’s reaction to watching the first atomic bomb test in the New Mexican desert in 1944, a somber quotation from the Bhagavad Gita;

“I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

But that same October also witnessed another Cold War event a bit less pyrotechnic, but earth shaking nonetheless. On Oct. 18, the good ship Chain, flagship of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, ventured for the first time into the Black Sea.

Originally an ocean-going salvage tug, the good ship Chain, now outfitted with state of the art technology was on a “scientific” mission to chart the inlet to the Black Sea’s ocean floor, the Bosporus Strait – that narrow strip of water connecting the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

The ocean floor maps and accompanying thermocline measurements to be provided by the Chain were key information critical to submarine operations. However the Chain’s mission was explicitly stated as “scientific”. Military funding of the expedition was simply another example of Project Plowshare, defense spending on “scientific” investigation providing civilian benefits. The presence of a Soviet destroyer shadowing the Chain and regular long range bomber overflights demonstrated the paranoia of the Russian mind.

Understandably the crew of the Chain was a bit intimidated by the Soviet attention. But even more foreboding had been sight of warship superstructures one evening outlined against the lights of Istanbul. A flotilla of Soviet surface ships, cruisers, destroyers and frigates steaming under cover of night through the strait on their way to take up station in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans – a fleet of warships going into harm’s way as it were.

But as the Chain went about its topographic mapping the next day, the data from the acoustic imaging was so shocking that the stark austere shadows of Soviet warships were momentarily forgotten. The acoustic imaging from their instruments was showing a deep channel cut into the rock of the Bosporus Strait’s floor. The strait has a nominal water depth of 100-150 feet, but hidden within the strait was a narrow gorge of 350 feet to 400 feet depth. Further the instrumentation showed that gorge to be virtually bare rock, with little sedimentary detritus indicating a very recent geologic origin to the deep channel.

Daring to push the boundary of their limited “scientific” camouflage, the Chain ventured out into a limited exploration of the Black Sea itself. The underwater gorge continued onto and through the continental shelf, cutting a deep channel into it. The acoustic imaging showed a bottom landscape evidencing violent water flow, with ample evidence of what might have been plunge pools and cataracts. Had the Black Sea once been an empty basin, then filled by sea water from the Mediterranean, a prehistoric Niagara Falls?

Science marches on but scientists need someone to pay their salaries. Anomalous underwater geography inspires geologists but does little for donors seeking their name on a University’s Science Building. And while the anonymous bean counters of the Pentagon often fund boondoggles, those boondoggles must be located in the appropriate Congressional District. The Chain’s topographic sea bottom maps and thermocline data found their way into the war rooms of the US Navy’s 6th Fleet, but data from the “scientific” mission of the Chain languished in a purgatory of academic indifference. Visions of the final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark” dance in one’s head.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 1967.” Six years later, another ship from the Woods Institute had been on its way to conduct “research” in the Red Sea. But the Six Day War intervened. Unable to traverse the Suez Canal due to random artillery fire, this ship, the Atlantis II, turned left, diverting itself into the Black Sea. That the Atlantis II was helmed by the former captain of the Chain may have just been happy coincidence.

The Atlantis II was an underwater exploration vessel, famous for locating the sunken USN Thresher submarine in 1963. There’s that military connection again, but the Atlantis II along with its other instrumentation was also equipped to take core samples of the sea bottom. Regularly harassed by Soviet military aircraft, the Atlantis II traveled around the Black Sea doing “research”, but also taking samples of the Black Sea bottom.

Surprises again!! The top 3-4 feet of the Black Sea’s bottom was covered with “black goop” with another layer of light gray clay underneath. When the “black goop” was brought to the surface, the tubular coring device quickly pressurized, oozing a smelly gas and gunky liquids. The “goop” was found to be organic material pressurized with gases typical of anaerobic decay; methane, hydrogen sulfide, et al. One might find a similar substance inside the digester of a municipal sewage plant.

While typical ocean bottom material has around 1% organic material, the “black goop” covering the bottom of the Black Sea is 50% or more of organic matter. But the grey clay directly below the “black goop” is a clay/sand mix typical of sand dunes. In fact, when the grey clay is put into a press to remove its entrained water, there is another surprise. The grey clay is saturated with fresh water, a mineral water good enough to drink from the bottom of the Black Sea.

The Black Sea is unique among the world’s oceans. Except for its surface waters, the Black Sea is lifeless except for anaerobic bacteria. Most of its water is saturated with hydrogen sulfide, a potent poisonous gas fatal in concentrations measured in parts per million. The water depth of the hydrogen sulfide seems to vary, but large releases into the atmosphere of this poisonous gas are virtually certain to have occurred in the past.

Perhaps these sudden bursts of lethal hydrogen sulfide gave rise to its name. The Black Sea has been long associated with strange happenings, mysteries and legends. The legend of Jason and the Argonauts revolved around the strange creatures and places in the Black Sea. The Greeks called it the “Inhospitable Sea”, viewing the Black Sea with suspicion, much as moderns think of the Bermuda Triangle.

Science marches on, at least that science funded by donors eager to have buildings named after themselves or Pentagon apparatchiks seeking promotion. Neither group is excited by “black goop” in unexpected places. Meanwhile Soviet engineers were building bridges. The Black Sea is the destination for large rivers draining southern Russia and the Ukraine; the Don, the Danube, the Dniester, the Dnieper, et al.

Conducting soil bores for bridges spanning these rivers, Soviet engineers were surprised to learn that the beds of these rivers were once hundreds of feet deeper than today. Upon investigation, the riverbeds were found to extend into the Black Sea for hundreds of miles. Soil cores for the bridges contained the same “black goop” found by the Atlantis II, as well as the grey clay. But underneath the “black goop” and grey clay, Russian soil bores found layers of steppe grassland and desert sand. Most astounding to the soviet engineers, evidence of beaches was found at depths of 350’.

While the Soviet Union did not need rich donors to fund Science buildings, the dictatorship of the proletariat was equally uninterested in anomalous underwater topography. And so, science marched on in other more remunerative career directions.

Over the years, various bits and pieces of Black Sea geology continued to accumulate, but then the world of science is filled with odd facts and interesting anomalies. Think once again about that final scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”.

“Sherman, set the Wayback machine to 1993.” Glasnost and the thawing of the Cold War, the collapse of the Soviet Union. Scientific findings from behind the Iron Curtain become available to Western scientists.

A Bulgarian scientist, one Petro Dimitrov, had been using a manned submersible vessel to explore the Black Sea offshore Bulgaria. At a depth of 350 feet he had come upon what was clearly an underwater beach. Using the scoop on the submersible, he had collected deposits of shells encrusted with algae. Importantly, the shells from the depths of the Black Sea were the shells of freshwater clams. And now in 1993 Mr. Dimitrov wrote a letter to Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman at Columbia University in New York.

Bill Ryan and Walter Pitman were two scientists at Columbia University, colleagues with a background in continental drift. They had been involved with the voyages of both the Chain and the Atlantis II as well as other oceanographic ventures in the Black Sea/Mediterranean. Following the academic imperative of “Publish or perish”, they had authored scientific papers on the anomalous geology of the Black Sea and speculated on its meaning. Mr. Dimitrov had read those papers and was eager to talk to the two scientists.

Through a chain of events, Petro Dimitrov’s algae encrusted shells from the ancient lake beaches off the coast of Bulgaria wound up at one of the best laboratories in the US where they were Carbon-14 dated. These algae encrusted shells were found to be 7,500 years old.

Over the course of many decades, the weight of the scientific evidence was becoming difficult to refute, no matter its seeming impossibility. In 5,500 BC, the Black Sea had been a fresh water lake at a level 350 to 400 feet lower than today. Then a breach at the Bosporus Strait had caused the Mediterranean Sea to fill it to its present state. But the question was – How could that be? Calculations proved that flow from the many rivers emptying into it would have filled the Black Sea basin such that it would flow into the Mediterranean, just as it does today.

How could the water level of the Black Sea be hundreds of feet lower than the Mediterranean? How could the Black Sea not be full in 5,500 BC when the melting Ice Age glaciers of Northern Europe filled its source rivers to many times their current size, bloated with gushers of melt water?

More science emerged from behind the Iron Curtain. A quarry exposing a deep gash into the soils of the Czech Republic at the city of Brno had provided another scientist from behind the Iron Curtain, one Jiri Kukla, with the means to the accurately measure the climate in Central Europe for the past tens of thousands of years. Supplemented with data from Greenland ice cores, this wealth of data collected by Jiri Kukla provided a detailed and well supported climate/weather history for the Black Sea area. As an aside, one wonders whether Jiri Kukla had a relative who worked with Fran & Ollie. Another obscure reference from the past. 

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 20,000 BC!” It is cold outside the Wayback Machine. Cold and very dry. Most of Northern Europe and North America is buried under a gargantuan ice sheet more than 2 miles deep. Great stretches of land now underwater are dry land as sea level was at least 400 feet lower than today. The environment around the present day Black Sea was a frozen desert landscape roiled by gale force winds driving enormous sand storms. What small lakes, diminutive rivers and streams existed were often ice covered.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 15,000 BC!” The Earth is warming up and the great ice sheets are melting, melting relatively quickly. Great chunks of ice and detritus trapped in the ice form dams and sand bars creating great lakes. These temporary dams would fail catastrophically with the landscape being shaped and formed by the floodwaters released. The rugged terrain of western Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington bears mute testimony to the power of these floods. The climate is rapidly changing and life is getting easier, but flood insurance is really expensive.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 10,000 BC!”  Just when we were getting comfortable in this warmer world, life changes again. This is the time of the geologic era known as the Younger Dryas, named for a species of alpine tundra wildflower that flourished in the suddenly colder climate. Average temperatures around the world drop by 15 Degrees F in a very short time. Life is suddenly a whole lot harder and the ice sheets are once more on the march.

It is during this time that one of the most puzzling archeological sites in the world is built. Known as Gobeklii Tipi, it is what appears to be a very large site featuring monumental architecture. It has been described as the “world’s first temple”, equally impressive as Stonehenge but 7,000 years older. Gobeklii Tipi is located directly south of the Black Sea, in highlands that now contain the headwaters of the Euphrates River. Perhaps the sudden change in climate had driven the people of the time to placate their gods, their obviously very angry gods.

Archeological digs in the Levant (Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria) and surrounding areas indicate the emergence at this time of a common culture that scientists have named Natufian. Natufian Culture is in the midst of a change from a hunter gatherer life style to the emergence of villages and agriculture. Natufian Culture is also beginning to domesticate animals.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 8,500 BC!”  The climate has changed again and it is warming again. This is the beginning of what the scientific community calls our present geologic age, the Holocene. Natufian Culture is ubiquitous in the area surrounding the Black Sea at this time.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 6,200 BC!” The climate changed again and a mini Ice Age has returned. The climate history from the Brno quarry proved the existence of a heretofore unknown extreme cold snap lasting 400-500 years. The fertile areas around the Black Sea turn once more to arid wasteland, driving Natufian Culture to find a warmer climate or become roving bands of nomads once more, a life style for which they are no longer suited.

Sometime during the great Ice Age that ended in 15,000 BC, the Black Sea basin had become isolated from the Mediterranean by a great natural dam in the Bosporus Strait. Its level during the Younger Dryas and mini Ice Age had stabilized some 400 feet lower than the present day. The Black Sea has become something like the Dead Sea in Israel, rivers flowing into an isolated basin with no outlet to the ocean. Left alone, the Black Sea would eventually become a dead sea as well, but it takes tens of millions of years for such salt levels to accumulate.

For now in 6,200 B.C., the Black Sea is a giant fresh water lake, perhaps a series of lakes like the Great Lakes of North America. The Caspian Sea, some 400 miles to the east of the Black Sea, is an 11 million year old example of what the Black Sea might have become if not reconnected to the ocean at the Bosporus Strait.

At this lower water level, enormous floodplains in the Black Sea basin are exposed. During the time of the mini Ice Age (circa 6,200 – 5,800 BC), the Black Sea floodplains are a very pleasant place to live. At these lower elevations the temperature is warmer and less exposed to the sandstorms of the Anatolian Plateau or Central Europe. The lake itself and the greatly diminished rivers flowing into it provide water and irrigation. It is the obvious place for Natufian Culture to continue to thrive.

“Sherman, set the Wayback Machine to 5,500 BC!” The mini Ice Age is over and life is really good in the Black Sea floodplain. But the sea level has resumed its rise in the world’s oceans as the great northern glaciations continue melting. One day a small stream of water finds its way through the natural dam at the Bosporus Strait. Perhaps it is a storm driving ocean waves against a sand dune suddenly collapsing under the force of the onslaught.

The water of the Mediterranean Sea begins pouring through. Perhaps just a trickle to begin with, but every day the stream grows in size and intensity as the water, driven by the Mediterranean Sea behind, washes away everything before it. Soon the stream is a cataract of raging water flowing where it will. Perhaps we might remember the videos we have seen of the 2015 tsunami in Japan, the Fukushima disaster. The Fukushima tsunami was small potatoes compared to the power of this ancient Black Sea event.

What was it like for all those people on the floodplains of the Black Sea, the people of the Natufian Culture, on that floodplain? Did water begin to rise slowly or did great floods appear suddenly? Did the great waterfall at the Bosporus Strait fill the air of the Black Sea basin with humidity, forming storm clouds feeding torrential rains? Might one describe their experience as recorded in the 7th chapter of the Book of Genesis?

“the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the rain was on the earth forty days and forty nights.”

The archeological record from this time is intriguing as well. Archeologists have found numerous human settlements in Europe beginning with the ending of the Younger Dryas, but these settlements were often deserted during the mini Ice Age. With the ending of the mini Ice Age in circa 5,800 BC, they were resettled. But around 300 years later, 5,500 BC, these highlanders on the Central European shield began to build walls around these settlements. The assumption is that protection from someone or something was now needed.

It was that same time, about 5,500 BC, that a number of new cultures, more advanced in art and craft, appear in the archeological digs. Known to archeologists as the Vinca, the Linearbandkeramik, the Hamangians cultures, they were aggressive and vigorous peoples on the move advancing across the land, replacing the cultures originally there. One might imagine a prehistoric version of the European immigrations into the New World, the Spanish, the French, the English.

These people, the Vinca, the Linearbandkeramik, the Hamangians cultures, are what we know collectively today as the Indo-Europeans, or a simpler older name since discredited by the Nazi’s, the Aryans. This new Aryan culture spread across Europe, across the steppes to the Iranian plateau and into India. Today, nearly 50% of the world’s population speaks a language derived from that spoken by these people.

To the south of the Black Sea, a similar wave of cultures appeared at the same time. In the Levant, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Anatolia, something new happened. Pottery making appeared in the Nile Valley of Egypt as the people who would one day build pyramids supplanted the existing cultures there before. The Semitic peoples spread into the Mid-East, including Canaan. Mesopotamia became the home of the Ubaids, whose culture grew into the ancient civilization of Sumer.

The Sumerians, popularized and parodied in the movie Ghostbusters, had the world’s first recognizable civilization, a culture with cities rather than simple villages. The city of Ur from which God called the Patriarch Abraham was a Sumerian city. Of more than passing interest are the “Reptillian” statues of the Sumerian Civilization found by archeologists. Humanoid figures with the heads of lizards, or maybe snakes? Hmmmm?

What does one say about this decades long accumulation of scientific data? How can it not excite? The scenario lies before us. Starting some 15,000 years ago, the Black Sea basin was a great fresh water lake serving as the cultural center ancestral to both Western Civilization as well as the three great religions serving as the legal, moral and ethical basis for nearly two thirds of the world’s population.

Then in a sudden and catastrophic event 7,500 years ago, the nexus of this culture is buried under water within a very short period of time. The exodus of peoples from this flooded basin are the foundation culture for today’s nations of North America, South America, Europe, and a very great part of both Asia and Africa.

Admittedly, this is only a scenario, but it is a scenario fitting the facts and supported by science. But strangely, in a culture worshiping at the altar of Science, there is little interest in this particular science. Virtually all of the data has been gathered by accident, an incidental benefit of exploration with another focus. One wonders?

While science marches on, it marches only in funded directions. Money is the food of the scientific beast and it follows the game trails of its prey, no different than the lion or other predator. Like the schools, science always has a hand out, declaring themselves paupers. It is said that archeologists cannot pursue the opportunities to dig for a lack of money. But from my seat in the upper reaches of the bleacher section, it would seem that money is freely available for archeology.

My own short lived regional company directed many millions of dollars into the hands of degreed archeologists cataloging the prairies of the American Great Plains for blackened campfire stones of the various Native American tribes and modern day hikers. Surely some of that money could be better spent in more productive archeological pursuits?

Science marches on, but it is also careful of where it steps. Contrary to their less reputable cousins – engineers – scientists don’t make things leading to cash flow. Thus scientists are the darlings of Millennial culture, non-profit employees. Scientists depend on the good will of people with money, soon learning that making discoveries upsetting to people with money is no way to pursue a career.

The mind sets and learned habits of career scientists was well captured by an English farm boy. Arthur C. Clarke grew up to be a writer renowned for predicting the marvels of the modern world well before they happened. His stories are memorable, sticking in my mind for their insight and poignancy. Arthur C. Clarke had this to say about scientists:

“If a distinguished scientist says something is possible, he is nearly always right. If he says that something is impossible, he is probably wrong.”

Serious research into the “Black Sea Event” would invite questions uncomfortable to a great many invested professionals feeding at troughs, public and private. Climate change, global warming, etc. is the great foundation stone of a great many careers and reputations, and most importantly the careers and reputations of people influential in allocating funds for “science”.

The “Black Sea Event” is driven by climate change, a story about climate change upending human history. There is no doubt it would get public interest. It would get “clicks”, documentaries and maybe even movies. But the sticky wicket for scientists is the source of that climate change. The climate change surrounding the “Black Sea Event” would seriously complicate the received wisdom undergirding the careers and reputations of a great many influential people, importantly people who allocate money for “science”. They will be very disappointed if they don’t get “Science” for their money.

Climate change is of course a real thing. Only the purposefully obtuse would argue otherwise. But it is also a very complicated thing, a subject not easily amenable to the simple morality plays driving political and scientific careers in today’s stew pot of social media and activist journalism. A simple calculus in the thought processes of all involved would avoid complications that might come from digging into the “Black Sea Event”. 

Who knows where the findings and public opinion might lead? The Science on climate change is settled. All we need is the political will to follow the Science. As Roy Durstine, a real life doppelganger of Mad Men’s advertising executive Don Draper, once wrote:

“Our mind is made up, don’t confuse us with the facts.”

The climate changes resulting in the “Black Sea Event” would simply confuse the public’s mind with facts. It is probably best for all concerned that a collective amnesia concerning the “Black Sea Event” join Science’s similar attitudes toward other “climatic events”, the well documented but little discussed Roman Warm Period (250 BC to 400 AD) and Little Ice Age (1300 AD – 1850 AD). Us adults all know the climate does vary, vary a lot, but let’s not discuss it in front of the kids. Good grief, somebody might even start thinking climate change is a good thing!!

But it’s not just the scientific industrial complex with no enthusiasm for research into the “Black Sea Event”. Another important public, Fundamental Christianity, is involved as well. Even a cursory glance at the “Black Sea Event” evokes the Book of Genesis, Noah’s Flood and its aftermath. Again a very complicated thing, a subject not easily amenable to the simple morality plays driving political and media careers in today’s stew pot of evangelical social media, funding and politics.

While the “Black Sea Event” echoes with intriguing resonance to the Book of Genesis’s account of Noah’s Flood, there is much that puzzles, contradictory and disquieting. Perhaps because today’s Christianity feels itself under siege, it does not welcome puzzles or disquieting questions about such matters. When the watchman sounds the alarm, the need is to man the ramparts. Our leaders feel, understandably, that “we need soldiers who obey orders, not philosophers asking questions.” But the evangelical Christianity of the 21st Century would do well to find its own G. K.Chesterton who reminded his own day that “the riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.”

Our modern educational system, both secular and of faith, and the resulting discourse of those educated there is unable to deal with complicated issues, much preferring soundbites and factoid “gotchas”. Neither the community of faith nor of reason care to hear that which might challenge their thinking.

The Academies of Faith and Science no longer talk to each other, leaving their sheep in the care of shepherds wearing blinders. It was in the 19th Century that the schism between Science and Theology began. There were many contributing causes, but the year 1859 and the publication of Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species” in the schism stands like the year 1066 and the Battle of Hastings in the history of Britain. With the arrival of Darwin and evolution, the battle lines were drawn and in the 21st Century the divorce, long since consummated, has fossilized both sides.

As evolution turned into Evolution, those who would battle God in every age seized science as a cudgel to batter the faith creating the Science of the Experts. Rather than engage on the public battlefield, theology retreated from the Academy and comforted themselves in the halls of Theology, at great loss to both. As Theology has turned its back on science, the faithful whom they serve have been left to find their own way. We who work outside of Theology’s cloistered halls and pulpits, know science as interpreted by engineering is a fact of life, proven many times over.

The failure of Theology to engage science has left our culture adrift, as well as forcing many to live a lie. I have spent my working life in the oil & gas business. The oil & gas business is a business founded upon geology, the geology articulated by science. My own experience is that the oil & gas business is populated by Christians and in the main, remains animated by a Christian spirit now lost by many other enterprises.

And yet, the geology of our business, without which the oil & gas business would not exist, is an abomination to the Theology of Evangelical theologians. Those of us who are believers and live using the tools of geology are left to our own devices. It is not likely that those commanding the heights of Biblical interpretation in the Evangelical community would welcome serious investigation of the “Black Sea Event”.

The wisdom of Proverbs has it that “iron sharpens iron”. In a Universe created by God, I do not believe the science created by God is a trick or a trap to ensnare us or lead us astray. The iron of science can do much to sharpen the iron of Biblical interpretation, as well as the reverse.

One of my favorite Bible verses is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 8 and Verse 3:

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”


One Response to “The Great Flood”

  1. Bill Rehrig says:

    Hey Bill: A great expose centered on the Black Sea event- a cataclysmic result of the earth’s climate changes. A few years ago, I found a used book called “Noah’s Flood” authored by a couple of scientists that you mentioned.
    Since “the flood story is found in other ancient texts from other cultures, it shows it was a widespread event.

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