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Stalactite and stalagmite

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Stalactites and Stalagmites in Carlsbad Caverns New Mexico, USA

Stalactites and stalagmites are two types of rock formations typically found in caves. Stalactites hang from the ceiling, much like icicles. Stalagmites grow from the floor. Both are formed when minerals like calcium carbonate precipitate out of dropping water.

The timeframe for formation of stalactites and stalagmites is a subject of dispute. According to the uniformitarian model they both take tens of thousands to millions of years to form. According to the creationist model, however, they are able to form much more quickly, and often do.


Rapid Formation

In Sequoia Caverns, stalactites protected from tourists from 1977-1987 grew 10 inches or 1 inch / year. At this rate they could have grown 300 ft in just 3600 years.

The picture at right is of a bat discovered in 1953 in a stalagmite, in Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico. The stalagmite grew around the bat before it could decay or be eaten. The temperature where this bat is found is just above freezing at a constant 40o F. The water dripping from the stalactite above it is vary salty. This would impede but not prevent decay. Also it would not prevent the bat from being eaten. So this stalagmite still had to form quite rapidly, certainly far less than 5,000 years.

Bat found in a stalagmite

Many caves do have slow stalactite and stalagmite growth rates today. However there is evidence that suggests that caves were formed rapidly by sulfuric acid dissolution rather than weaker and slower carbonic acid. This process would not only have speeded up cave formation but also the growth rates of stalactites and stalagmites. Sulfuric acid forms when water, oxygen and hydrogen sulfide mix. The hydrogen sulfide could come from several sources, including anaerobic decomposition of organic matter, oxidation of sulfide deposits, volcanic activity and others. All of these sources would have been plentiful during the Genesis Flood. So once the Genesis Flood is considered, cave formation and stalactite and stalagmite growth times would have been well within the time since the Flood.

Stalactites and stalagmites on man-made structures

Interestingly, these "speleothems" can be found on man-made structures as well. Concrete is made from limestone: The rock is baked to drive the water out of it, reversing the chemical process and producing limestone powder. When water is added, the chemical reaction is invoked again, and the limestone turns back into rock.

Consequently, water percolating through concrete can produce stalactites and stalagmites. This is especially true in the fall, when fallen leaves dissolving in surface water make it very acidic.

Stalactites have grown under the Lincoln Memorial. When photographed in 1968 they had grown 5 feet in 45 years. At the George Roger Clark Memorial, built on the banks of the Wabash River, in Vincennes Indiana, water seeping through cracks formed stalactites and stalagmites. Part of these are five 11ft-long columns that formed in 40 years. The memorial is made from the same limestone found in Blue Spring Caves, of Bedford Indiana.


The photo on the right shows stalactites that have grown inside a hydroelectric dam. Ian Juby and Vance Nelson have collected stalactite and stalagmite samples from bridges, dams, and mines from around North America for placement in Creation museums. These particular stalactites grew in only one year. The date duration of these growth is known because Juby had collected the stalactites the year before, which had then grown back upon his return to the location.

Juby and Nelson provided samples of these stalactites to the Calgary Rock and Materials Services Inc. labs in Calgary, Alberta. Operator Ray Strom ran the samples through X-ray difractometry, and the conclusions not only affirmed that these stalactites were chemically identical to cave stalactites, it had an interesting surprise. The stalactites that were the fastest growing (namely, the one-year-old stalactites from the dam) were the ones most chemically identical to cave stalactites, whereas the ones that grew the slowest (i.e. stalactites that had grown only a few centimeters in 80 years on a railroad bridge) were the ones most contaminated, and most different from cave stalactites.

Infidels response

The infidels.org website has a seemingly very convincing sounding arguments that these stalactites on man-made structures were irrelevant to the rate of formation for cave speleothems:[1] However, the author has missed (ignored?) two critical points that are fatal to his arguments.

First, creationists have demonstrated that cave stalactites can form rapidly under normal conditions. Duane Gish in CRSQ, 25(4):161 (1989) summarized the research of other articles:

  • Williams, E. 1975. Laboratory production of limestone formations. CRSQ. 12:120.
  • Williams, E. 1987. Rapid development of calcium carbonate (CaCO3) formations. CRSQ. 24:18-19.
  • Williams, E, et al. 1976. Deposition of calcium carbonate in a laboratory situation. CRSQ. 12:211-212.
  • Williams, E., and R. Herdklotz. 1977. Solution and deposition of calcium carbonate in a laboratory situation - II. CRSQ. 13:192-199.
  • Williams, E., and R. Herdklotz. 1978. Solution and deposition of calcium carbonate in a laboratory situation - III. CRSQ. 15:88-91.
  • Williams, E., and R. Herdklotz. 1981. Solution and deposition of calcium carbonate in a laboratory situation - IV. CRSQ. 17:205-208, 226.

Nelson and Juby inquired of Dr. Jonathan Henry on the skeptic's comments, and he wrote back:

Second, though the Loftin quote, and the Moore and Sullivan quote, are true for new concrete, the author has ignored the fact that in older concrete structures, the calcium hydroxide has been converted to calcium carbonate by contact with carbon dioxide in the environment, and that even old concrete rich in calcium carbonate is capable of forming stalactites rapidly.

It is amazing that this author should have left this out. The conversion of newly-cured concrete from calcium hydroxide to calcium carbonate is well known. Concrete becomes stronger over time because of calcium hydroxide replacement by calcium carbonate. Thus we do have calcium hydroxide stalactites from new concrete, and these form rapidly, but we also have calcium carbonate stalactites forming rapidly from old concrete.

Carbon Dating

Discovieres in 2001 in an underwater Bahamas cave heralded implications for carbon dating overall, showing that radiocarbon levels may have flunctuated more heavily than previously thought, disrupting uniformitarian assumptions of radiocarbon dating levels.[2]


This shows stalactite and stalagmite are forming on the overhang on the wall in a subway tunnel in New York due to calcium carbonate dissolving the concrete.


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