Many ask: “If Noah’s Flood really covered the whole earth, then where did the water go?”
This question has a simple answer, and once we understand what happened and how, we can see the reality of the biblical Flood all around the world.
Actually, the Bible tells us where the water went. By Day 150 of the Flood catastrophe the floodwaters had risen until they covered “all the high mountains under the whole heaven” (Genesis 7:19). After that “the waters receded from the earth continually” (Genesis 8:3), a process that took about seven months.
As the water receded from the continents it must have flowed into the oceans. It only takes a quick look at a globe of the earth to appreciate that the water indeed sits in the oceans. The Pacific Ocean alone takes up almost half the earth’s surface (Figure 1).
Figure 1. This view of the globe shows how the waters of Noah’s Flood receded into the oceans. The Pacific Ocean covers virtually the whole hemisphere.
Logically, the only way for the water to drain from the continents into the oceans is for the continents to rise and the ocean floors to sink. As our knowledge of the structure of the earth has grown we can appreciate how that could have happened.
The top part of the earth, called the crust, sits on top of the mantle (about 3,000 km (1,900 miles) thick), which in turn sits on the earth’s iron core. The continental crust is about 40 km (25 miles) thick, while the thickness of the oceanic crust is only around 7 km (5 miles). Up-and-down movement of the crust during Noah’s Flood, called differential vertical tectonics, explains how the waters drained from the continents. On a smaller scale, mountain ranges would have risen and valleys sunk.
As the continental crust rose and the ocean floors sank, the floodwater covering the globe drained off, causing massive erosion of the continents.1 By the time the floodwaters had fully receded, the surface had been transformed into its present shape. After that, Noah and all those with him left the Ark, 371 days2 after the Flood had begun (Genesis 8:18–19).
As the ocean basins began to sink, the water flowed across the continents in wide sheets, shaving the surface flat. Geologists call such features ‘planation surfaces’.3 The runoff eroded the uplifting mountains, transporting the rock debris across the continent, and rounding any hard, resistant rocks into boulders and gravel. Large deposits of well-rounded quartzite rocks are found at numerous places in the northwest United States and adjacent Canada.4
Figure 2. Schematic of a guyot, a volcano likely truncated at sea level producing a flat top (drawn by Jes Spykerman). There are thousands of guyots on the ocean bottom, especially in the western Pacific, indicating that the ocean basins have sunk.
Figure 3. The most likely explanation for the formation of abyssal hills by normal faulting (from ref. 8, p. 125 and redrawn by Mrs. Melanie Richard).
Toward the end of the Flood, mountain ranges began to emerge above the water and the runoff became more channelized. These flowed across mountain ranges, ridges, and plateaus, eroding gorges from one side of the barrier to the other, a feature called a water gap, through which a river or stream now passes.5
Indeed, there is abundant evidence for differential vertical tectonics of mountains and valleys, and continents and oceans. This is revealed through the study of geomorphology, i.e. the shape of the earth’s surface.6 Mountains show evidence of upward movement along faults, while the adjacent valleys show evidence they have sunk down, and then collected sediments. The sediments prove that the movement started while the land was still under the floodwater.
As the ocean basins sank, thousands of metres of sediment washed off the continents, forming the continental margin. These margins are evidence the ocean basins near continents sank. Further evidence of ocean basins sinking are flat-topped undersea volcanoes called guyots (Figure 2), found far from land. Water currents shaved these smooth, and they now sit at an average of about 1,500 metres (5,000 ft) below sea level. Secular geomorphologist and world traveller, Lester King, exclaimed:
Even the fine details of the ocean bottom, deep beneath the surface, show signs of differential vertical tectonics in the crust—that areas rose and sank. Abyssal hills are found over most of the deep ocean crust, although they are mostly covered by sediments. They are narrow ridges typically 10 to 20 km (6 to 12 miles) long, 2 to 5 km (1.2 to 3 miles) wide, and 50 to 300 metres (160 to 1,000 ft) or more high (Figure 3).8
Consistent with the Genesis Flood, the upward and downward movement in the earth’s crust is a worldwide phenomenon. Lester King summarizes:
Indeed, there is abundant evidence of differential vertical tectonics during Flood runoff.
Figure 4. Mount Everest in the Himalaya Mountains.
Many consider the height of Mount Everest at 8,848 metres (29,029 ft—Figure 4) a fatal flaw for the Genesis Flood. How could the floodwater have topped the mountains, they ask? Even if the ocean floor was raised to sea level, the present water on the earth would be only 2,700 metres (8,800 ft) deep, one-third the depth needed to cover Mount Everest. Differential vertical tectonics as the floodwater was draining provides the answer,10 because the mountains were pushed up as a result of the Flood, by way of upward vertical tectonics.
It is clear that the mountains were once under the ocean because the sedimentary rocks that form the tops of most mountains contain marine fossils. For example, Mount Everest is topped with marine crinoid (sea lily) fossils embedded in limestone.11
This means that Mount Everest and the other high mountains in our present world, with their sedimentary rocks and fossils, rose up out of the floodwater during the later stages of the Flood. Figure 5 illustrates how, as the floodwater drained, the Uinta Mountains of the western United States rose about 12,000 metres (40,000 ft) compared with the same type of rock in the basins to the north and south, which sank with other sedimentary rocks filling the basins (formations 5–7, Figure (5d)).
Figure 5. A schematic of the Uinta Mountains rising about 12,000 m (40,000 ft) out of the floodwater (drawn by Mrs. Melanie Richard).
So, it was mountains rising and valleys sinking that caused the floodwater to drain at the end of Noah’s Flood. The water moved toward the low spots on the planet and the rising land was exposed.12 As a result of vertical movements in the earth’s crust, the continents and mountains rose at the same time as the valleys and ocean floors sank. The mountains were first to rise above the water, which explains why the Ark grounded on the “mountains of Ararat” (Genesis 8:4). If the Genesis Flood was a local event, the Ark would have been carried downstream. Assuming it didn’t sink, it would have landed on a flood plain or been washed into the ocean. Scripture is strikingly consistent in declaring the Genesis Flood as a global event, and the features on the surface of the earth are in full agreement.