The Science Says Noah’s Ark Could Have Floated

By Heather Ramsey on Monday, July 6, 2015
Noahs_Ark
“You are to bring into the ark two of all living creatures, male and female, to keep them alive with you. Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.” —Genesis 6:19–20

In A Nutshell

Physics students from the University of Leicester determined that Noah’s ark would have been able to float if built from instructions found in the Bible in Genesis 6:13–22. If all marine life stayed in the sea, then the students believe that the ark could have accommodated all the species that existed at that time.

The Whole Bushel

There are a lot of cultures whose ancient history includes a flood story: the Babylonians, Greeks, Romans, Irish, and Native Americans. But the most famous one is of Noah and the ark as told in the Bible. Geologists from Columbia University believe that the stories have a common basis in fact. As glaciers melted at the end of the ice age, the excess water gushed into the Mediterranean Sea, eventually spilling into the Black Sea and inundating nearby farms.

That explains the water. But what about the ark? We haven’t found it yet, but is it even scientifically possible to build a vessel to hold a pair of each animal from biblical times? Four physics students from the University of Leicester think they have the answer.

In 2014, these students tested whether Noah’s ark would be able to float if built from instructions found in the Bible in Genesis 6:13–22. Noah had been told to build an ark with a length of 300 cubits, a width of 50 cubits, and a height of 30 cubits. First, the students had to figure out how big the ark would be in conventional measurements.

They determined that the size of a cubit was about 48 centimeters (19 in), roughly the length from someone’s elbow to the end of his middle finger. As a result, their ark would measure about 145 meters (476 ft) long, 24 meters (79 ft) wide, and 14 meters (46 ft) high, similar to a tiny cargo ship.

In the Bible translation used by the students, the ark was to be built of gopher wood, which might be cedar, cypress, or pine. They chose cypress wood, although the other types of wood were similar in density. From there, they figured out that an empty ark would weight about 1.2 million kilograms (2.6 million lb).

To float, the vessel had to exert a force on the ocean equal to the weight of the water displaced by it. Called the “buoyancy force,” it’s the most weight the ark can carry without sinking. If the density of the ark is more than the water, the vessel will sink.

Assuming the ark was box-shaped, it should have been able to carry 51 million kilograms (117 million lb), or the equivalent of a little over two million sheep, without sinking. Each sheep was assumed to weigh approximately 23 kilograms (51 lb). If all marine life stayed in the sea, then the students believe that the ark could have accommodated all the species that existed at that time.

To figure out how many land animals would need to fit into the ark, biblical scholars suggest that two factors would reduce the number. First, the “created kinds” of animals cited in Genesis are fewer than the number of “species” that may have existed back then. That means only 2,000 or fewer animals may have been loaded on the ark. Second, the larger animals, such as dinosaurs and elephants, could have fulfilled the requirement with smaller, young animals.

Show Me The Proof

Featured photo credit: Edward Hicks
National Geographic: The Search for Noah’s Flood
AlphaGalileo: Hurrah! The animals could have floated two by two according to physicists
Smithsonian: Could Noah’s Ark Float? In Theory, Yes
CBN: How Many Animals Were on the Ark?