Snowball Earth

Ice sheets expanded into the tropics at least three times in Earth's history, covering the bulk — if not all — of the globe in ice. These Snowball Earth events reflect massive and unique perturbations to the Earth's climate-carbon system. In this focus, we bring together research and opinion pieces that explore the causes and consequences of Snowball Earth glaciations.



An icy past p655


During several intervals in Earth's history, ice sheets expanded to cover the globe. These glaciations may be intricately linked to the evolution of life.



Snowball cooling after algal rise pp659-662

Georg Feulner, Christian Hallmann & Hendrik Kienert


The Earth underwent two snowball glaciation events between 720 and 635 million years ago. The preceding expansion of eukaryotic algae and a consequent rise in emissions of organic cloud condensation nuclei may have contributed to the dramatic cooling.


News & Views

Palaeoclimate: Snowball climate conundrum pp668-669

Philip Allen


Evidence for a Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth in the sedimentary record has been controversial. A weathered horizon preserved in sedimentary rocks from Svalbard may provide a rare signature of prolonged global glaciation.



Orbitally forced ice sheet fluctuations during the Marinoan Snowball Earth glaciation pp704-707

Douglas I. Benn, Guillaume Le Hir, Huiming Bao, Yannick Donnadieu, Christophe Dumas, Edward J. Fleming, Michael J. Hambrey, Emily A. McMillan, Michael S. Petronis, Gilles Ramstein, Carl T. E. Stevenson, Peter M. Wynn & Ian J. Fairchild


The presence of dynamic ice sheets during Snowball Earth glaciations is controversial. Geological evidence and ice sheet modelling suggest that ice sheets may have responded to orbital forcing when pCO2 reached a certain threshold.


From the archives


News & Views

Early earth: Snowballs limited by weathering

A. Joshua West


A series of extreme cooling episodes, starting 750 million years ago, could have repeatedly turned the planet into an ice-covered snowball. Carbon cycle modelling suggests that the timing of the glaciations can be explained by chemical weathering rates.

Palaeoclimate: Marinoan meltdown

Graham Anthony Shields


The termination of the Marinoan glaciation 635 million years ago is one of the most spectacular climate change events ever recorded. Methane release from equatorial permafrost might have triggered this global meltdown.

Palaeontology: Extinction before the snowball

Frank A. Corsetti


A widespread biotic turnover occurred around the time of the Sturtian glaciation. Microfossil analyses show that one regional extinction pre-dates the glacial advance, challenging the more severe models for glacial effects in the Neoproterozoic era.



Sedimentary challenge to Snowball Earth

Philip A. Allen & James L. Etienne


The Snowball Earth concept envisages a fully frozen Earth for millions of years several times during the Neoproterzoic Era between 1,000 and 542 million years ago. However, the sedimentary evidence suggests that despite the severity of glaciation, some oceans must have remained ice-free.



Timing of Neoproterozoic glaciations linked to transport-limited global weathering

Benjamin Mills, Andrew J. Watson, Colin Goldblatt, Richard Boyle & Timothy M. Lenton


The Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth glaciations were separated by tens of millions of years, although models suggest glacial inception should occur within millions. Numerical modelling suggests that the delay could be explained by inherent limits on silicate weathering rates controlled by the availability of fresh rock.

Dynamics of a Snowball Earth ocean

Yosef Ashkenazy, Hezi Gildor, Martin Losch, Francis A. Macdonald, Daniel P. Schrag & Eli Tziperman


Extensive glaciations, possibly even a globally ice-covered Snowball Earth, took place in the Neoproterozoic era, and here the possible ocean circulation at that time, under a kilometre of ice, is described.

Ocean oxygenation in the wake of the Marinoan glaciation

Swapan K. Sahoo, Noah J. Planavsky, Brian Kendall, Xinqiang Wang, Xiaoying Shi, Clint Scott, Ariel D. Anbar, Timothy W. Lyons & Ganqing Jiang


Data are presented that support the idea of an oxygenation event in the immediate aftermath of the Marinoan glaciation, pre-dating previous estimates for post-Marinoan oxygenation by more than 50 million years.

A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth

P. Sansjofre, M. Ader, R. I. F. Trindade, M. Elie,J. Lyons, P. Cartigny & A. C. R. Nogueira




Osmium evidence for synchronicity between a rise in atmospheric oxygen and Palaeoproterozoic deglaciation

Yasuhito Sekine, Katsuhiko Suzuki, Ryoko Senda, Kosuke T. Goto, Eiichi Tajika,Ryuji Tada, Kazuhisa Goto, Shinji Yamamoto, Naohiko Ohkouchi, Nanako O. Ogawa & Teruyuki Maruoka


Snowball Earth prevention by dissolved organic carbon remineralization

W. Richard Peltier, Yonggang Liu & John W. Crowley


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