Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Research Shows How Life Might Have Survived ‘Snowball Earth’

12.10.2011
Global glaciation likely put a chill on life on Earth hundreds of millions of years ago, but new research indicates that simple life in the form of photosynthetic algae could have survived in a narrow body of water with characteristics similar to today’s Red Sea.

“Under those frigid conditions, there are not a lot of places where you would expect liquid water and light to occur in the same area, and you need both of those things for photosynthetic algae to survive,” said Adam Campbell, a University of Washington doctoral student in Earth and space sciences.

A long, narrow body of water such as the Red Sea, about 6.5 times longer than it is wide, would create enough physical resistance to advancing glacial ice that the ice sheet likely could not make it all the way to the end of the sea before conditions cause the ice to turn to vapor. That would leave a small expanse of open water where the algae could survive.

“The initial results have shown pretty well that these kinds of channels could remain relatively free of thick glacial ice during a ‘snowball Earth’ event,” Campbell said.

He examined the issue using an analytical model that applied basic principles of physics to a simple set of atmospheric conditions believed to have existed at the time. The results were published Saturday (Oct. 8) in Geophysical Research Letters. Co-authors are Edwin Waddington and Stephen Warren, UW professors of Earth and space sciences.

Many scientists believe Earth became a giant snowball two or three times between 800 million and 550 million years ago, with each episode lasting about 10 million years. These all preceded the Cambrian explosion about 530 million years ago, when life on Earth rapidly expanded, diversified and became more complex.

But simple photosynthetic plankton turn up in the fossil record before and after the “snowball Earth” events, leading scientists to wonder how that could happen if Earth’s oceans were completely encased in ice.

Campbell said it is assumed the algae survived these episodes, “unless they re-evolved each time, which creates a whole different problem for evolutionary biology.”

He chose the Red Sea as an example because it is formed from a tectonic process called continental rifting, a process known to have existed at the time of the snowball Earth events, and it lies in an arid region between Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula.

Campbell noted that in a snowball Earth event, the open water in such a sea wouldn’t have lasted long if it didn’t have a way of being replenished – if, for example, the glacial ice acted as a dam and cut off the influx of additional sea water. The open water had to exist on the order of 10 million years for the algae to survive.

“Over 10 million years, you could evaporate the deepest lake in the world,” Campbell said. “If you’re in a desert, you’d have to have a supply of sea water.”

The work was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

For more information, contact Campbell at 206-543-0162, 503-347-8253 (cell) or campbead@uw.edu.

The paper is available at http://www.agu.org/journals/gl/gl1119/2011GL048846.

Vince Stricherz | Newswise Science News
Further information:
http://www.uw.edu

More articles from Earth Sciences:

nachricht Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology
22.06.2017 | Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft

nachricht How reliable are shells as climate archives?
21.06.2017 | Leibniz-Zentrum für Marine Tropenforschung (ZMT)

All articles from Earth Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>