A note on Harlan Bretz, the channeled scablands of eastern Washington, and the perception of past catastrophe.

Harlan Bretz noticed, and tried to point out, the evidence for the mega-floods that sculpted the Grande Coulee, and the ‘Channeled Scablands’ of eastern Washington. What he had noticed was empirical, conclusive, evidence, of a major catastrophic event that the standard theorists of his day thought was impossible.

The aerial views allowed him (and anyone who looked where he was pointing) a perspective from which large scale material movements could be perceived on a scale that had been unimaginable until he described them. There we typically see ripples, like the ripples in a stream bed, but hundreds of feet high. To one standing among them, they appear as parallel hills, or dunes. It is only from high altitude that their true nature becomes evident.

From a fairly low altitude by today’s standards, Bretz was able to perceive catastrophic material movements that spanned entire counties. But were invisible to one walking on the ground among them. And now we see history repeating itself on a grand scale as the modern images, taken from thousands of miles up, and now commonly available to all through Google Earth, reveal the surface of the Earth in extraordinary detail. They reveal as empirical fact, the material movements of a continent spanning, mass extinction level event that the standard theorists of today are doubtful of for the very same reason they were doubtful of Bretz. The events violate the unquestioned uniformitarian/gradualist assumptions of standard geology theory.

Harlan Bretz was the first to use Aerial photographs to detect,  and map, catastrophic material movement. Most of the academic community of his time thought he was nuts. After all most geologists agreed that sudden, catastrophic, geologic changes just don’t happen anymore. And that all geomorphology is the result of slow processes requiring millions of years. They believed that “The present is the key to the past”, and that the rocks of that area were all ‘well defined’. They were mistaken.

The satellites of today have upped the ante. Mr. Bretz could see evidence of material movement on a statewide scale. With the imagery now available through Google Earth we can detect, and read patterns of catastrophic material movements on a continental, and even global, scale. The event Bretz perceived was only implausible from a standard theory viewpoint because of its size. And yet, by comparison, it will be seen that his mega flood was only a minor little footnote in the events of the early Holocene.

The Younger Dryas impact event was a catastrophe more violent than any one has ever imagined in their most frightening nightmares of devastation.  And the trouble with studying it, is that all of the Earth sciences are founded on the 19th century assumptions of uniform, gradual, geologic change. And the founding principle that ‘The present is the key to understanding the past’. The simple empirical fact is that it isn’t. There has been no hint in the brief period of time known as ‘Written History’ of the catastrophic violence, of extraterrestrial origin  which has happened in geologically recent, human times.

Our sciences are trying to perceive, and make sense of, the most violent natural catastrophe in 65 million years while founding their research on the unquestioned 19th century uniformitarian assumption of Sir Charles Lyell that sudden catastrophic geologic changes do not happen. They’re like blind scholars studying an elephant they can’t even imagine. And the elephant is in the room with them.

The Younger Dryas cooling was caused by a very, very, Different Kind of Catastrophe.