There is an enigmatic landscape in eastern Washington State known as the Scablands. For years it baffled geologists who could not adequately explain its formation. There are canyons that rise hundreds of feet above the canyon floor that seem to indicate the process of erosion. Yet, erosion could not have been the culprit since no river has flowed through that region. The closest river, the Columbia River, is too far away from the Scablands to explain its unique features. There likewise are signs of glaciation. Strewn across the prairies of the Scablands are giant, granite boulders called Erratics that were stripped from the Canadian Rockies by glaciers. Glaciers, however, never extended as far south as the Scablands. So, how did those boulders come to call the Scablands home?
In 1922, a geologist from the University of Chicago, J. Harlan Bretz, extensively studied the Scablands and concluded that they had to have been formed by a huge, catastrophic flood that reached depths of a thousand feet in certain points. He wrote a paper on his findings that were published in the “Journal of Geology” the following year. His peers rejected his theory of a megaflood. To them, it smacked too much of the Biblical Flood described in Genesis. They objected that the forces that created the Scablands had to have taken thousands and thousands of years. Bretz continued his attempts to advance his ideas. In 1927, he met with the U.S. Geological Society in Washington, D.C. As before, his colleagues were resistant to his idea. Some of the geologists pressed Bretz for the source of water that fueled this massive flood. Bretz did not have that answer but stated that he believed that the water must have come from the direction of Spokane, Washington.
In the 1940s and 1950s, geologist J.T. Pardee discovered evidence for an enormous flow of water out of Glacial Lake Missoula. Specifically, he noted giant ripples on the mountainsides that were 20 to 30 feet high and 200 to 300 feet apart. These ripples also pointed to a flow of water in the direction of the Scablands of Washington State. Certainly there had been enough water in Glacial Lake Missoula to account for the megaflood. Glaciers, making their way into Montana from Canada, filled the valley situated near the present city of Missoula, Montana, damming the Clark River. The dammed river formed a lake that was larger than Lake Erie and Ontario combined. In places, Glacial Lake Missoula was 1,000 feet deep or more. (By the way, water from Glacial Lake Missoula would have entered Washington State near present day Spokane, exactly where Bretz had suggested.)
Today, scientists have been able to explain the conditions that would have caused the breach in the glacial dam that had created Glacial Lake Missoula. In 1996, a massive flood in Iceland demonstrated that super-cooled water flowing at the base of a glacier would exploit any cracks or crevices, entering into the glacier itself. This water, a trickle at first, will develop into greater and greater streams as friction from the movement of the water actually melts the glacial ice. (This takes place despite the fact that temperatures never rise above freezing within the glacier.) Eventually, the glacier is compromised and the water bursts forth. At some point in the past, similar processes occurred within the dam holding back Glacial Lake Missoula causing it to burst and form the Scablands.
Computer modeling as well as laboratory tests show that the water from Glacial Lake Missoula probably flowed at speeds up to 65 miles per hour. The flow would have been hundreds of feet deep and would have contained chunks of glacial ice. As these pieces of ice melted, they released the massive boulders contained inside. These boulders came to rest throughout the prairies of the Scablands, placed exactly as we see them today. Vortices formed underwater from the flow of water over basalt and bedrock would have dug the deep potholes that pockmark the Scablands. And the rock formations that scientists believed were created by erosion over eons of time were created almost instantaneously from the massive flow of water.
Geologists were slow to embrace Bretz’s theory. They did not finally do so until they investigated the Scablands themselves on a field trip in the 1960s. Reluctantly, they had to conclude that only a megaflood could adequately explain the unique features and formations of the Scablands. Even though Bretz was proved correct, geologists continue to fear the implications of his theory. It proves that some of the things that we observe in nature that appear to have been created over thousands of years could have actually been created more quickly by catastrophic conditions. In other words, certain features and formations may not be millions of years old as previously surmised. They may only be thousands of years old. And what about Noah’s Flood? Bretz’s theory invokes thoughts of it as well. Could the Genesis account be true? Could there have been other megafloods in antiquity? Floods that could have created swift change in the landscape?
I conclude these thoughts by reminding you of the words of Peter as recorded in 2 Peter 3:3-6:
Knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished (ESV).
The Scablands of Washington State