Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and led by scientists at Harvard University, the team reports on its work this week in the journal Science.
The new findings--based on an analysis of ancient tropical rocks that are now found in remote northwestern Canada--bolster the theory that our planet has, at times in the past, been ice-covered at all latitudes.
"This is the first time that the Sturtian glaciation has been shown to have occurred at tropical latitudes, providing direct evidence that this particular glaciation was a 'snowball Earth' event," says lead author Francis Macdonald, a geologist at Harvard University.
"Our data also suggest that the Sturtian glaciation lasted a minimum of five million years."
According to Enriqueta Barrera, program director in NSF's Division of Earth Sciences, which supported the research, the Sturtian glaciation, along with the Marinoan glaciation right after it, are the greatest ice ages known to have taken place on Earth. "Ice may have covered the entire planet then," says Barrera, "turning it into a 'snowball Earth.'"
The survival of eukaryotes--life forms other than microbes such as bacteria--throughout this period suggests that sunlight and surface water remained available somewhere on Earth's surface. The earliest animals arose at roughly the same time.
Even in a snowball Earth, Macdonald says, there would be temperature gradients, and it is likely that sea ice would be dynamic: flowing, thinning and forming local patches of open water, providing refuge for life.
"The fossil record suggests that all of the major eukaryotic groups, with the possible exception of animals, existed before the Sturtian glaciation," Macdonald says. "The questions that arise from this are: If a snowball Earth existed, how did these eukaryotes survive? Did the Sturtian snowball Earth stimulate evolution and the origin of animals?"
"From an evolutionary perspective," he adds, "it's not always a bad thing for life on Earth to face severe stress."
The rocks Macdonald and his colleagues analyzed in Canada's Yukon Territory showed glacial deposits and other signs of glaciation, such as striated clasts, ice-rafted debris, and deformation of soft sediments.
The scientists were able to determine, based on the magnetism and composition of these rocks, that 716.5 million years ago the rocks were located at sea-level in the tropics, at about 10 degrees latitude.
"Climate modeling has long predicted that if sea ice were ever to develop within 30 degrees latitude of the equator, the whole ocean would rapidly freeze over," Macdonald says. "So our result implies quite strongly that ice would have been found at all latitudes during the Sturtian glaciation."
Scientists don't know exactly what caused this glaciation or what ended it, but Macdonald says its age of 716.5 million years closely matches the age of a large igneous province--made up of rocks formed by magma that has cooled--stretching more than 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) from Alaska to Ellesmere Island in far northeastern Canada.
This coincidence could mean the glaciation was either precipitated or terminated by volcanic activity.
Macdonald's co-authors on the Science paper are Phoebe A. Cohen, David T. Johnston, and Daniel P. Schrag at Harvard; Mark D. Schmitz and James L. Crowley of Boise State University; Charles F. Roots of the Geological Survey of Canada; David S. Jones of Washington University in St. Louis; Adam C. Maloof of Princeton University; and Justin V. Strauss.
This work also was supported by the Polar Continental Shelf Project.
Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
As sea level rises, much of Honolulu and Waikiki vulnerable to groundwater inundation
29.03.2017 | University of Hawaii at Manoa
Researchers discover dust plays prominent role in nutrients of mountain forest ecoystems
29.03.2017 | University of Wyoming
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
30.03.2017 | Health and Medicine
30.03.2017 | Medical Engineering