When this Canadian rock was on the equator it was covered with ice
Geologists have found evidence that sea ice extended to the equator 716.5 million years ago, bringing new precision to a “snowball Earth” event long suspected of occurring around that time.
Led by scientists at Harvard, the team reports on its work in the latest edition of the journal Science . The new findings — based on an analysis of ancient tropical rocks in remote northwestern Canada — bolster the theory that the planet has, at times in the past, been covered with ice at all latitudes.
“This is the first time that the Sturtian glaciation [the name for that ice age] has been shown to have occurred at tropical latitudes, providing direct evidence that this particular glaciation was a ‘snowball Earth’ event,” said lead author Francis A. Macdonald, an assistant professor in Harvard’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. “Our data also suggests that the Sturtian glaciation lasted a minimum of 5 million years.”
The survival of eukaryotic life — organisms composed of one or more cells, each with a nucleus enclosed by a membrane — throughout this period indicates that sunlight and surface water remained available somewhere on the surface of Earth. The earliest animals arose at roughly the same time, following a major proliferation of eukaryotes.
Even on a snowball Earth, Macdonald said, there would be temperature gradients, and it is likely that ice would be dynamic: flowing, thinning, and forming local patches of open water, providing refuge for life…
Not exactly a dynamic tale to weave through our society’s politics-driven communications machine. Still, of critical interest to those whose vision carries further into history than last week’s episode of American Idol.