Encyclopedia of Geobiology

2011 Edition
| Editors: Joachim Reitner, Volker Thiel

Snowball Earth

  • Paul F. Hoffman
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4020-9212-1_190

Synonyms

Cryochron; Global glaciation; Hard snowball; Ice-albedo catastrophe; Snowball (in geology); White Earth

Definition

Snowball Earth is a climate in which the oceans and most land areas are permanently covered by glacial ice. As less sunlight is absorbed by ice than by water or land, a critical area of ice will cause surface temperatures to fall below freezing everywhere, resulting in a snowball Earth. This arguably occurred near the beginning and end of the Proterozoic eon. Snowball Earths self-destruct after millions of years due to the buildup of atmospheric carbon dioxide of volcanic and metamorphic origin, which could not be converted into organic matter or limestone. Biological evolution is a postulated cause and consequence of snowball episodes.

History of the concept

Sedimentary deposits of glacial origin were first described from the late Proterozoic (Neoproterozoic) of Scotland in 1871 and from the early Proterozoic (Paleoproterozoic) of Canada in 1907. By 1940, it was...

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Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul F. Hoffman
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Earth & Planetary SciencesHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA