Published on September 23rd, 2010 | by Joshua S Hill
Red Sea Crossing Acquires Scientific Plausibility
I bet you didn’t think the bible could be backed up with scientific evidence, did you? But new research from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU) shows that the “parting of the Red Sea” depicted in Exodus actually has basis in the physical world.
Exodus 14:21-22 reads as follows;
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.”
According to the research conducted by Carl Drews of NCAR and lead author, the computer simulations that they ran show a strong east wind, blowing overnight, could indeed have pushed back water at a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon along the Mediterranean Sea.
“The simulations match fairly closely with the account in Exodus,” says Drews. “The parting of the waters can be understood through fluid dynamics. The wind moves the water in a way that’s in accordance with physical laws, creating a safe passage with water on two sides and then abruptly allowing the water to rush back in.”
The researchers found that by studying maps of the ancient topography of the Nile delta, archaeological records, satellite measurements and current day maps, a location 75 miles north of the Suez reef and just south of the Mediterranean Sea held the requirements for the Exodus passage through the waters. Using a specialized ocean computer model to simulate the impact of an overnight wind at that site, they found that a wind of 63 miles an hour, lasting for 12 hours, would have pushed back waters estimated to be six feet deep.
This phenomenon would have exposed mud flats for four hours, creating a dry passage about 2 to 2.5 miles long and 3 miles wide and water piled up on both sides of the passage. The moment the winds stopped, the waters would have come rushing back in and put anyone within at risk of drowning.
Drews work is part of his master’s thesis in atmospheric and oceanic sciences at CU, and is part of a larger research project looking at the impact of winds on water depths, including the extent to which the Pacific Ocean typhoons can drive storm surges.
Wind on the Water
The authors of the research outlined the problem they faced in answering whether this was possible, and the history behind answering the problem.
Scientists from time to time have tried to study whether the parting of the waters, one of the famous miracles in the Bible, can also be understood through natural processes. Some have speculated about a tsunami, which would have caused waters to retreat and advance rapidly. But such an event would not have caused the gradual overnight divide of the waters as described in the Bible, nor would it necessarily have been associated with winds.
Other researchers have focused on a phenomenon known as “wind setdown,” in which a particularly strong and persistent wind can lower water levels in one area while piling up water downwind. Wind setdowns, which are the opposite of storm surges, have been widely documented, including an event in the Nile delta in the 19th century when a powerful wind pushed away about five feet of water and exposed dry land.
A previous computer modeling study into the Red Sea crossing by a pair of Russian researchers, Naum Voltzinger and Alexei Androsov, found that winds blowing from the northwest at minimal hurricane force (74 miles per hour) could, in theory, have exposed an underwater reef near the modern-day Suez Canal. This would have enabled people to walk across. The Russian study built on earlier work by oceanographers Doron Nof of Florida State University and Nathan Paldor of Hebrew University of Jerusalem that looked at the possible role of wind setdown.
The new study, by Drews and CU oceanographer Weiqing Han, found that a reef would have had to be entirely flat for the water to drain off in 12 hours. A more realistic reef with lower and deeper sections would have retained channels that would have been difficult to wade through. In addition, Drews and Han were skeptical that refugees could have crossed during nearly hurricane-force winds.