Life's Little Mysteries

Is Noah's Ark Really On Top of Mount Ararat?

Former "Baywatch" star Donna D'Errico recently announced her plan to climb Mount Ararat in Turkey to search for the frozen remains of Noah's Ark. According to chapter eight of the Biblical Book of Genesis, that's where the big boat alighted after the Great Flood.

D'Errico is far from alone in her belief that it's still there today. Every few years a new team of mountaineers claims to have discovered what could only be the Ark, and climbs down from the mountaintop carrying chunks of rock taken to be petrified wood. Extensive satellite searches of Mount Ararat have even been conducted; they particularly focus on something called "the Ararat Anomaly" -- an unidentified, Ark-sized formation near the mountaintop photographed by the U.S. Air Force in 1949, and thought by some to be the you-know-what.

Even for the scientifically inclined, it is conceivable that there's a grain of truth to the Great Flood story, since the Old Testament is, after all, a document written by human beings about the world as they knew or understood it. Perhaps there was a mighty deluge one year, which a fortunate man and his family weathered in a massive boat.

However, it is not scientifically conceivable that the Ark ended up on top of of the 15,330-feet-tall Mount Ararat. Quite simply, there's not enough water on Earth to raise water levels that high. And in case you were thinking that plate tectonics raised the mountain's peak since Noah's time: 6,000 years, the time since the Biblical Flood was supposed to have occurred, is, in geological time, the blink of an eye. Mount Ararat was just as tall, majestic and out-of-reach then as now.

For those willing to admit of miracles, who could conceive of more water than normally exists flooding the Earth for 40 days and nights six millennia ago, still, the Ararat Anomaly is very unlikely to be an Ark. Five years ago, Farouk El-Baz, Director of the Boston University Center for Remote Sensing, told LiveScience that believers are interpreting satellite images with a biased outlook. "Up to this time, all the images I have seen can be interpreted as natural landforms. The feature that has been interpreted as the 'Ararat Anomaly' is to me a ledge of rock in partial shadow, with varied thickness of snow and ice cover," he said.

Got a question? Send us an email and we'll look for an expert who can crack it.

Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover

Natalie Wolchover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.