A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

44 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

The snowball Earth hypothesis postulates that the planet was entirely covered by ice for millions of years in the Neoproterozoic era, in a self-enhanced glaciation caused by the high albedo of the ice-covered planet. In a hard-snowball picture, the subsequent rapid unfreezing resulted from an ultra-greenhouse event attributed to the buildup of volcanic carbon dioxide (CO2) during glaciation. High partial pressures of atmospheric CO2 (pco2; from 20,000 to 90,000 p.p.m.v.) in the aftermath of the Marinoan glaciation (∼635 Myr ago) have been inferred from both boron and triple oxygen isotopes. These pco2 values are 50 to 225 times higher than present-day levels. Here, we re-evaluate these estimates using paired carbon isotopic data for carbonate layers that cap Neoproterozoic glacial deposits and are considered to record post-glacial sea level rise. The new data reported here for Brazilian cap carbonates, together with previous ones for time-equivalent units, provide pco2 estimates lower than 3,200 p.p.m.v.-and possibly as low as the current value of ∼400 p.p.m.v. Our new constraint, and our re-interpretation of the boron and triple oxygen isotope data, provide a completely different picture of the late Neoproterozoic environment, with low atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and oxygen that are inconsistent with a hard-snowball Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-96
Number of pages4
JournalNature
Volume478
Issue number7367
DOIs
StatePublished - Oct 6 2011
Externally publishedYes

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Oxygen Isotopes
Carbon Isotopes
Planets
Boron
Carbonates
Ice
Carbon Dioxide
Partial Pressure
Oceans and Seas
Carbon
Oxygen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General

Cite this

Sansjofre, P., Ader, M., Trindade, R. I. F., Elie, M., Lyons, J., Cartigny, P., & Nogueira, A. C. R. (2011). A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth. Nature, 478(7367), 93-96. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10499

A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth. / Sansjofre, P.; Ader, M.; Trindade, R. I.F.; Elie, M.; Lyons, James; Cartigny, P.; Nogueira, A. C.R.

In: Nature, Vol. 478, No. 7367, 06.10.2011, p. 93-96.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Sansjofre, P, Ader, M, Trindade, RIF, Elie, M, Lyons, J, Cartigny, P & Nogueira, ACR 2011, 'A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth', Nature, vol. 478, no. 7367, pp. 93-96. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10499
Sansjofre P, Ader M, Trindade RIF, Elie M, Lyons J, Cartigny P et al. A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth. Nature. 2011 Oct 6;478(7367):93-96. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10499
Sansjofre, P. ; Ader, M. ; Trindade, R. I.F. ; Elie, M. ; Lyons, James ; Cartigny, P. ; Nogueira, A. C.R. / A carbon isotope challenge to the snowball Earth. In: Nature. 2011 ; Vol. 478, No. 7367. pp. 93-96.
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