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Creation's Tiny Mystery
Chapter 4: Secondary Polonium Halos Fuel the Controversy

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During the early seventies I began to contemplate where secondary polonium halos might have formed, realizing that the first requirement was an abundance of uranium to supply the secondary polonium atoms. Whatever the host substance, it must have allowed rapid movement of those atoms; otherwise, because of the short half-lives, all of them would have decayed before they could be captured. Of course, even in a matrix where polonium atoms could move freely, there must also exist microscopic sites where polonium would be collected in order for the halos to form. Summarizing, I was seeking geological specimens that were (1) high in uranium, (2) capable of having allowed rapid movement of secondary polonium atoms, and (3) possessing microscopic-sized capture sites for those polonium atoms.

Uranium in Coalified Wood

These special requirements brought to mind a reference to radioactivity in wood about which I learned several years earlier (Jedwab 1966). Further checking revealed that pieces of wood, partially turned to coal, some as large as logs, had been found in certain uranium mines in western states. The mines were located in the uranium-rich sedimentary deposits in the region geologically known as the Colorado Plateau. Previous microscopic studies of thin slices of these specimens showed halos, having formed around uranium-rich sites. The evidence suggested the wood had been in a watersoaked, gel-like condition at some earlier period in earth history. At that time solutions rich in uranium had passed through the wood, thus permitting the accumulation of uranium at certain sites with an affinity for that element. Secondary halos had then formed around those uranium centers.

[p. 52]

These earlier studies were intriguing. If these coalified wood specimens contained microscopic sites which had captured uranium, possibly other sites might have captured polonium. Coalified wood specimens had been found in a number of uranium mines, but they were an uncommon occurrence. Moreover, some of those mines were now closed. Ordinarily it would have been a long and arduous task to collect such specimens. Fortunately, though, I obtained a variety of coalified wood pieces from a colleague who had earlier collected samples from the mines for his own investigations (Breger 1974).

It occurred to me that, irrespective of whether or not these specimens contained secondary polonium halos, they might contain important clues relative to the age of the earth and occurrence of a worldwide flood. To understand my thoughts at that time requires a brief description of some different types of rocks and their histories.

The Origin of Sedimentary Rocks

Scientists generally agree that sedimentary rocks are initially the result of transport and deposition by ice, wind, or water. Many sedimentary (or secondary) rocks, such as shale, sandstone, and limestone, often contain the fossil remains of plants and animals from both terrestrial and marine environments. The Precambrian granites, which are one type of crystalline rocks, do not contain fossils.

While there is general agreement on what sedimentary rocks are, views differ regarding how rapidly and under what conditions they actually formed. The evolutionary view, based on geological uniformitarianism, is that they ordinarily formed slowly over hundreds of thousands or millions of years by geological processes operating at the same rates as observed at present. Interestingly, some geologists now admit that some individual layers could have formed rapidly under "storm" conditions (Ager 1981).

One immediate problem with the uniformitarian viewpoint is the difficulty in finding a location where sedimentary rock formations are in the process of developing at present. River and ocean sediments are forming today, but it is questionable whether any of these will ever turn into the massive limestone and sandstone formations seen in various parts of the world. Nevertheless, evolutionary geologists usually assume that the different sedimentary formations accumulated from the build-up of marine deposits left from the ebb and flow of inland seas over millions of years.

The alternate view of how most sedimentary rocks formed is based on the occurrence of supernaturally induced, catastrophic events associated with [p. 53] a worldwide flood. The scriptural record indicates that the entire earth was covered with water for over a hundred days. Sedimentary material could have been deposited both during the time when the waters were rising and again when they were receding. The scriptural statement, "fountains of the great deep were broken up," suggests that parts of the earth's crust were broken open, implying that the flood was a period characterized by intense volcanic activity. Volcanic eruptions in the ocean basins would have triggered tidal action, resulting in the burial of animal, marine, and plant remains into freshly deposited sediments. The existence of well-preserved fossils in sedimentary rocks is often cited as evidence of a very rapid burial, in agreement with the above scenario.

A rapid deposition of different sediments would also be expected to produce only occasional erosion between successive layers. A prime example of uniform layering of successive formations can be seen in the Grand Canyon. If the horizontal sedimentary layers seen there were really separated by vast periods of time, one would expect to find deep irregular cuts and other signs of erosion within the different layers. Instead, such features are the exception rather than the rule.

Radiometric Dating of the Colorado Plateau Deposits

Many geologists pay little attention to these arguments for the flood scenario, perhaps because they believe radiometric dating confirms their views of an ancient age of the sedimentary formations. In particular, radiometric dates of 55 million to 80 million years have been assigned (Stieff et al. 1953) to some of the Colorado Plateau formations where the coalified wood specimens are found. On the basis of the flood model these formations were deposited within a few months of each other only a few thousand years ago. Which was correct? Did radiometric dating justify an ancient age of the coalified wood, or had misplaced confidence in the uniformitarian principle, and hence a constant decay rate, led my colleagues to misinterpret the data? Perhaps too, some of the data had escaped their attention.

A singular thought occurred to me. The coalified wood specimens I was soon to receive might have been parts of trees that were growing immediately prior to the flood. My anticipation began to build. When the secrets of the granites were unlocked, they appeared as rocks that were created—the Genesis rocks. Likewise, did these coalified wood specimens contain secrets that would link them to another part of the Genesis record—the account of a recent worldwide flood?

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Earth Science Associates