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Controversy about the Glacial Theory

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Agassiz statue


Drumlins were formed under water!

In most areas where drumlins occur, there is also evidence they were formed when the land was submerged. Water currents generated by a rapid uplift were the likely cause of patterns of drumlins. There is no doubt that sediment-laden currents can produce drumlins, as researchers have confirmed the formation of drumlin-like structures in flume experiments (Wysota and Piotrowski, 2001).

Submerged drumlins are known from several areas. Drumlins partly drowned in the sea occur along the east coast of Nova Scotia, their orientation indicating flow was southward, apparently from the Gulf of St. Lawrence. About 200 drumlins occur in Boston harbour, and many partly drowned drumlins form islands in Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, where flow direction was from NE to SW. 

Sumberged drumlins are present on the floor of Lake Huron near Joseph Island, and on the floor of Lake Ontario. About 6,000 drumlins occur in the area between lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario. Typically these have signs of former submergence, such as gravel lag boulders, strand lines and wave-cut notches at well defined elevations. The higher strand lines are not horizontal, showing crustal warping has occurred.

Westover Drumlins (south of Guelph) are oriented E-W which contrasts with the orientation of the main Guelph drumlin field. Some of these drumlins have been modified by water action, having wave-cut benches and notches, and a gravel bar formed by wave action connects two drumlins.

Reversing ice sheets?

Orientation patterns in the Guelph drumlin field northwest of Lake Ontario indicate a NW current flow. This discredits the idea of the drumlins being formed by a former continental ice sheet as the direction of flow indicated by drumlin orientation suggests reversal of the ice flow. Glacialists invoke a "lobe" of ice from the basin of Lake Ontario, implying there was a thicker ice mass in Lake Ontario causing the "lobe" to extend to the northwest, west, and southwest, to account for the drumlins with these orientations, which in turn, implies greater accumulation of ice in the lake, etc., but the principle of Occam's Razor proscribes "multiplying hypotheses".

The directions of flow indicated by drumlins around the western basin of  Lake Ontario discredit continental ice spreading from centres in northern Quebec or in the NWT. Flow of a continental ice sheet should be directed away from the thickest ice accumulation. The hypothetical ice sheet that formed the drumlins of the Guelph drumlin field must have somehow flowed northwest, which is towards one of the regions supposed to have maximum ice accumulation. Of course, the required ice motion is improbable. The Guelph drumlin field is shown this map.

In general, if the drumlins were caused by water currents rather than by rigid ice sheets, flow directions would be away from the uplifted areas. Currents generated during crustal warping and uplift of submerged areas could have formed drumlins with various orientations. The process would depend on the amount and rate of uplift, the water depth, the flow rate, and the nature of the sediments that were streamlined by the currents. Where the flow was too fast for streamlining, erosion would occur, possibly forming lake basins or eroding wide valleys or spillways. If flow rates were too slow, the longitudinal vortices that form drumlins would probably be replaced by transverse vortices, resulting in a rogen landscape resembling giant current ripples, rather than drumlins.

The patterns of drumlin distribution in many areas around the Great Lakes seem to fit this scenario, as the patterns of drumlins are closely associated with lake basins. The Finger Lakes are parallel to local drumlins. The drumlins on the floor of Lake Ontario are parallel to the axes of their basins. Drumlin fields are associated with all of the Great Lakes and with many other lakes along the perimeter of the Canadian Shield. The lake basins represent areas that were subjected to current flows too strong for streamlining, and where sediments were eroded by the currents. Associated drumlin fields occur in regions with rising elevation downstream. The drumlins are arranged in radial patterns, indicating spreading or fanning out of currents when they were being developed. The patterns of drumlins in most areas are radial, diverging downcurrent. This points to their cause being currents of water rather than ice, as the line of flow in an ice sheet is confined by the ice on either side.

Whereas in a glacial environment the direction of ice flow would tend to be down-slope, and away from the central parts of the ice sheet, if currents generated by uplift of submerged areas of the earth's crust were the cause of drumlins, the flow directions would be radial, and directed away from the centers of uplift. The currents would become faster where the depth decreased. There is no difficulty explaining flow from the sea, or flow from lower regions towards higher ground, in this interpretation.

In the theory of tectonic uplift of submerged land causing the powerful currents that eroded lake basins and streamlined sediments to form patterns of drumlins, the arc-shaped patterns evident in groups of drumlins is significant, as this arc or fan pattern indicates a radial spreading of the currents, such as would be predicted by the uplift model and an environment of submergence. For each episode of uplift there would be a wave generated that spilled in all directions, and displaced sea water would spill out towards surrounding areas. There would be little effect in deep water, but the effect in shallow areas or regions of low elevation is likely to be the formation of streamlined landforms such as drumlins and flutings. The currents generated by uplift would spread from the focus of uplift. The radius of the arcs in patterns of contemporaneous drumlins can be determined from maps of drumlins. From this data the centers of uplift that generated drumlin patterns can be located. Thus the arc patterns of groups of drumlins could be related to specific tectonic features such as faults.

See: Ontario Drumlins

Were drumlins carved by floating ice?

The drumlin fields in northwestern New York show the effects several episodes of streamlining and erosion by currents, each involving currents with decreasing depth, causing patterns of smaller, more intricately streamlined drumlins that modified previously formed, larger drumlins. Where the Iroquois shore existed for prolonged period most of the drumlins were eroded away. Describing the drumlins of central NY, William A. White writes:

A wide zone of mostly small, narrow, highly streamlined drumlins lies immediately up-glacier (northward) from a cluster of end moraines ... Immediately down-glacier (southward) from the Waterloo end moraine, mostly at higher elevations, there is a zone of less-perfected drumlins which are larger and less streamlined. Apparently the external form of these larger more southerly drumlins is older than that of the smaller drumlins of more perfected streamlining for they antedate the Waterloo end moraine which delimits the zone of smaller drumlins. Up-glacier (northward) from the zone of smaller better streamlined drumlins, and at generally lower elevations, along the south border of Lake Ontario there is another zone of mostly larger, less perfected drumlins which are similar in size and shape to those south of the Waterloo end moraine.

White suggests that the ice that caused the streamlining in the zone of better preserved drumlins was floating in Lake Ontario, and so floated above the larger drumlins near the Lake:

When those advances came, they were surges of ice that was largely floating in the basin which now holds Lake Ontario. Apparently these surges of ice floated over the older drumlins at the north leaving them unmodified, were grounded across the area now marked by the zone of smaller drumlins,and made little penetration into the zone of older drumlins down-glacier from the Waterloo end moraine. In passing over the area where it was grounded the ice apparently further eroded the older larger drumlins, smoothing them into smaller better streamlined forms, many of which have narrow ridge crests unlike the gentle slopes and broad curvature of the older larger "whaleback" drumlins to north and south.

However it is unlikely that floating ice thrusted out of Lake Ontario would be capable of forming drumlins and this suggestion seems implausable. Rather than a thrust of floating ice, the action of vortices in a powerful curent generated by rapid crustal movements when the area was submerged were required to form drumlins. As the basin of Lake Ontario was excavated by a strong current flow to the southwest, some of the previously formed drumlins south of Lake Ontario were eroded away, leaving many drumlins along the south shore cut in half.


Section through drumlins reveals a bedrock valley

The bedrock profile below the drift in the Guelph area in southern Ontario is highly irregular. Some of the drumlins are bedrock, or covered with a thin drift layer, and some are mostly compsed of drift. The U. of Guelph is built on a drumlin that overlies a buried drift valley. The cross sections at right were made from well log data, and show the drift thickness and a buried valley below the drumlins in the vicinity of the university.

The variation of the drift thickness in drumlin areas is a serious difficulty for the glacial interpretation of drumlins, but simple to explain in the in situ disintegration theory: after streamlining of unconsolidated sediments by rapid currents, that may have been generated by crustal uplift when the land was submerged, the bedrock disintegrated to various depths, forming the drift sand and gravel, having a streamlined surface.

Image source:  Hims, A.G. 1998, Aquifer performance evaluation, southwest quadrant. Corp of City of Guelph.
Sections through Guelph drumlins

Dikes in drumlins

Stanford described clastic dikes in drumlins in Wisconsin. Some were aligned with, others perpendicular to the drumlin axis. The dikes were 1 - 9 m in width, and 1.5 to at least 6 m vertical extent. They contained stratified sand and thin layers of gravel or till. The strata was parallel to dike walls, and in some cases could be traced laterally to horizontal strata. Several dikes were linear and tabular in shape, some were described as "domes" (pipes?).

Dikes of sandy material in drumlins are evidence against the idea of drumlin formation by deposition of the drift from either ice or meltwater, and are also difficult to explain by erosion, because the shearing forces that would accompany erosion of unconsolidated drift would probably destroy patterns of stratification in sand. However the presence of dikes can be readily explained if the patterns of cross strata in the drift were formed by a process of in situ disintegration. In the author's interpretation of drumlins, they were shaped by currents which streamlined homogenous sediment or rock. The currrents are thought to have been generated by tectonic uplift of sumberged areas, that spilled water towards surrounding areas. After streamlining, rock within many drumlins was disintegrated, which formed drift materials in situ. The process of disintegration penetrated down from the surface to various depths, forming patterns of cross strata.  Dikes within drumlins are explained by the disintegration of a zone of the bedrock (perhaps previously bounded by joints) within a previously formed drumlin, followed by disintegration of the surrounding rock, resulting in an unconsolidated dike (or pipe) enclosed by unconsolidated drift. The internal structure of the drumlin records the effects of the disintegration mechanism rather than deformation of the drift prior to its streamlining.

The in situ disintegration explanation of the drift says the cross stratified drift material was formed by alteration of local bedrock, by a process no longer active on the earth. The patterns of cross strata in the sandy materials record the progress of a front of chemical alteration and crystallization that penetrated through the original rock from the top down during unloading in former catastrophic conditions. Expansion effects accompanied the alteration, which may have laterally displaced the drift. Lateral movements due to expansion can cause striations on underlying bedrock as the drift layer moved over it. The orientation of bedrock striations due to expansion are generally unrelated to the orientation of streamline features at the surface such as drumlins and flutings.

Reference cited:

Stanford, S.D. 1983.  Fabric and depositional structures in drumlins near Waukesha, Wisconsin. Geoscience Wisconsin 7, July 1983, 98-111.

Louis Agassiz

Louis Agassiz, 1807-73, of Fribourg, Switzerland, was the leading advocate of the Glacial Theory. In 1831 he went to Paris to study a collection of fossils under the guidance of G. Cuvier. In 1832 he became professor of natural history at the University of Neuchatel. His important researches on fossil fishes were published 1833-44. 

In order to demonstrate the motion of glaciers, Agassiz built a hut on a glacier and with the help of his students, mapped its movements. In 1840 he published his observations on glacier movements, and his theory of the glacial origin of the drift gravels. 

Agassiz visited the United States in 1846, and in 1848 accepted a professorship of zoology and geology at Harvard. He used the facts of embryology to help develop a system of classification of animals. 

Throughout his life, Agassiz insisted that the laws of embryonic development (ontogeny) are also the laws of geological succession (phylogeny). In his Essay on Classification, written in 1851, he wrote: 

... the phenomena of animal life correspond to one another, whether we compare their rank as determined by structural complication with the phases of their growth, or with their succession in past geological ages... 

Charles Darwin considered this doctrine of Agassiz to be support for his theory of evolution by natural selection. However, Agassiz vigorously opposed Darwin's theory, believing that new species could arise only through the intervention of God.



This statue of Louis Agassiz was toppled from its niche above the arches at Stanford University by the San Francisco, California earthquake, Apr. 18, 1906, magnitude 8.3. The photograph was taken by J. C. Branner. 
Geology and the Recapitulation Theory
From the Mosaic Deluge to the Ice Age or How the Glacial Theory was Accepted, by Heikki Rainio gives an account of the early history of the glacial theory in Finland. 

J. W. Dawson on the Glacial Theory

J. William Dawson (1820-1899) was one of the last great geologists of the nineteenth century who opposed the glacial theory of Louis Agassiz. Dawson was born and educated at Pictou, Nova Scotia, and became interested in geology and collected fossil plants from the local coal seams. He studied at Edinburgh in 1840-41, where he formed friendships with geologists such as Charles Lyell and William Logel. Logel later became the first director of the Geological Survey of Canada. 

During an unsuccessul bid for the chair of Natural History at the University of Edinburgh in 1854, Dawson was offered the job of Principal at McGill University in Montreal, which he accepted. At first he taught almost all the science courses. By his leadership in applying science to commerce and industry McGill was established as one of Canada's most innovative scientific centers of learning. Dawson published several popular discussions of the relation between science and religion. A devout Christian and a creationist, Dawson was a vigorous opponent of Darwinism. 

He served as the first president of the Royal Society of Canada in 1882, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (1882-3), president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1886), and was a fellow of several other learned societies. He was knighted in 1884. 

Dawson attributed the drift gravels and boulder clays to the work of drifting icebergs which transported and deposited drift material during a long period of subsidence of the land, and he opposed the glacial theory of Louis Agassiz. The reasons for his rejection of the theory of glaciation or an Ice Age, from the Fourth Edition of Acadian Geology, are presented in: 

Sir J. W. Dawson's Dissent from the Glacial Theory

Devil's Monument

Devil's Pulpit The Niagara Escarpment represents a "driftless area" in Southern Ontario, where the rock outcrops and landforms are exposed. This presents a serious problem for the conventional idea of glaciation, as the escarpment would obviously have formed an immense barrier to the alleged motion of the former ice sheets over it. Ice would need to have moved from the lower side to the higher, climbing uphill over the long line of very steep cliffs, and many features of the escarpment do not seem to support the notion of this strange postulated movement of ice sheets.


To form the Guelph are drumlins, the ice would have to somehow surmount the vertical cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment, but at Milton and at Mount Nemo near Burlington there are fragile rock pinnacles and deep fissures along the escarpment with no indication of these rocks having been subject to the wear and tear of such an ice movement over them.


 In some areas of the escarpment the hard dolomite rock is disintegrated, and shattered into small blocks, that remain precariously piled in position as unstable crags such as the stack known as the "Devil's Pulpit", illustrated in the photo at left. This is located along the western shoreline of Georgian Bay on the Bruce Peninsula, where the escarpment drops away steeply into the lake to a depth of several hundred feet, and it is in a position that probably would have received maximum wear and tear from the motion of any former ice sheet over it. 


Curious Holes at the Top of the Niagara Escarpment

The photo shows some large holes found at the top of the Niagara Escarpment near Milton, Ontario, prior to quarrying. These holes were discovered as the surface drift material was removed; they were previously filled up with loose earthy material, including the boulders shown lying at the bottom. Notice the slabs of dolomitic limestone that slope towards the holes. The bright rock surfaces exposed when drift was removed were smooth, with abundant scratches or striations. In the in situ disintegration theory, the scratches probably formed during movements of the surface drift material generated by expansion effects as the drift formed during the erosion of overburden. 




Bathymetry of Lake Huron



This bathymetry image by the National Geophysical Data Center shows details of the relief on the floor of Lake Huron. Outlines of former positions of headlands and bays of the Niagara Escarpment are evident on the floor of Georgian Bay. The escarpment retreated to the southwest as it was eroded by current flow. A submerged escarpment stretches from Michigan to Ontario and continues under a mantle of drift in southern Ontario. The floor of the northern basin of Lake Huron is disected into numerous channels that define submerged scarps and bluffs. The bedrock surface under the drift in southern Ontario probably resembles the floor of Lake Huron. There are numerous buried valleys, the one at Dundas being deeper than 1300 feet. The buried bedrock gorges don't follow drainage patterns such as those of rivers, but may be controlled by joint patterns in the bedrock. The writer anticipates more detailed studies on the bedrock channels at the floor of Lake Huron will reveal potholes. Submerged potholes occur near one of the islands in Georgian Bay near Tobermory. The topography of the floor of the northern basin of Lake Huron probably once had mantle of drift, that was removed by currents. Flows from various directions were involved in the erosion of the basins, as indicated by the variation of the orientation of the drumlins on shore in Ontario.


Rounded dolomite pebble within a boulder

Pebble Within a Boulder

The photo at left shows a rounded pebble of dolomite within another larger boulder, also rounded, from a gravel deposit in Cambridge, Ontario. How would this be explained in the glacial theory? Was the larger boulder indented by the small pebble? Scottish glacialist James Geikie suggested this kind of thing must have occurred, to explain indented boulders he had observed in the drift. He attributed this to the immense pressure of the ice on rock. But how could this occur, without either the pebble or the boulder becoming crushed? 

In the disintegration theory, the rounded pebbles and boulders of the drift were formed by concretionary processes; there was chemical segregation of component minerals into the concretionary centers as sediments were lithified, and upon disintegration, these concretions became boulders and pebbles. Thus there are often smaller concretions within the boulders and pebbles of the drift. 

A Discussion about the Glacial Theory

These text files contain a series of posts from a talk.origins discussion on the Glacial Theory. 

The Great Lakes 

Map of the lower Great Lakes area
Map showing the lower Great Lakes area.

The rock basins of the Great Lakes, and the Finger Lakes of New York, and thousands of other deep lake basins in the Canadian Shield could not have been excavated by ice. The depths reached by some of these rock basins is too great, and the volume of drift south of the Great Lakes is less than the volume of material that would need to be excavated. Former glaciers or hypothetical ice sheets could carry eroded material no further than the perimeter of the ice. Where did it all go? For example, south of Lake Michigan, in the Chigago area, there is bedrock near the surface and there are no moraine mountains composed of drift along the alleged perimeter of the hypothetical ice sheet. This is also true in Ohio and most other areas south of the lakes. 

Patterns of drumlins, which are streamlined landforms formed by current flow, show the direction of the former currents generated by crustal warping in the area of the Great Lakes at the end of the flood. The land was tilted upwards north and east of the lakes, spilling the waters to the south and west. In the area south of Lake Ontario, currents flowed towards the south, forming patterns of drumlins in New York. The drumlins are the effects of streamlining due to fast currents; ice does not move fast enough to cause streamlining. 

In the uplands of western New York, the drumlins at higher elevations tend to be longer, and have steeper sides, with narrow crests. This shows they were caused by water currents, and not ice movement, as an ice sheet being pushed uphill cannot move any faster than the ice to the rear, that is causing the push! But water currents increase in velocity at shallower depths, by the principle of continuity. 

After the New York drumlins formed, there was uplift east of Lake Ontario, centered in the Adirondack region, that spilled the floodwaters to the west. The patterns of drumlins in the Niagara Peninsula and the surrounding areas fan out in different directions. In Ontario the flow was to the northwest. This is very hard to explain by invoking a great ice sheet centered somewhere towards the north. In the area to the southwest there was flow to the southwest. Lake Erie was probably excavated by the same currents that formed these drumlin fields, and the material from the lake basin was carried far to the south and redeposited, perhaps in the continental shelves. 

The flood theory suggests these currents shaped unconsolidated sediment, or partly consolidated sediment, that was subsequently lithified. The disintegration penetrated to various depths, so that some drumlins remained berock, some had a mantle of drift, and some were composed of drift materials. All these types may have the same form and orientation, so were all formed by the same process of streamlining. 

Along the shores of Lake Ontario there are many drumlins that were cut in half by the currents that excavated the lake basin. This shows the sequence of events; and the environment in which all these effects were produced. The excavation of the rock basins of the lakes, especially in the case of Lake Superior, deepest of the Great Lakes, was likely aided by disintegration. As erosion occurred, the process penetrated to greater depths, and the disintegration product was removed by the rapid currents. All this must have happened only thousands of years ago; this is evident because of the generally good preservation of the drumlins composed of stratified drift. The lake basins would be filled up, and drift landforms would disappear, over an immense period of time. 

The ancient shorelines in the Great Lakes area and in the eastern part of North America also support this interpretation. They are generally higher to the northeast, and are not horizontal; they show that crustal warping was involved. The overall structure of the region is determined by the Michigan Basin, a downwarping of the granite basement some 10,000 feet deep in central Michigan. The patterns of drumlins conform with the tilting indicated by the ancient shorelines, and with the dip of the bedrock in the Great Lakes region. 

For more information, see:

Origin of the Great Lakes

Drumlins and subglacial meltwater floods

Giant Current Ripples in Ontario's Bruce Peninsula

Directional Erosion Evidence in Lake Huron

Flood Evidence in Eastern Washington

Michigan's Fossil Whales

The Mammoth and the Flood


Related Links


Map showing the location of Kelleys Island. 



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