back to article 'Snowball Earth': Glaciers, ice packs once met at Equator

American boffins say they have discovered evidence that almost the entire world was covered in sea ice and glaciers at certain points in the remote past, during so-called "snowball Earth" periods where the polar ice sheets met at the Equator. The 'Snowball Earth' theory explained. Credit: NSF It were grim in the old days. …


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  1. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

    I fail to see what their new findings are.

    The whole 'Snowball Earth' thing gets trotted out every couple of years for an article in New Scientist, it's not like it's a new theory, and it's not like there isn't already known geological evidence for it, which is so well established that it was mentioned in undergraduate lectures I attended fifteen years ago. What have this lot at Harvard brought to the table that is worthy of an article in Science?

    1. Stone Fox
      Black Helicopters

      you're right, it's not new.

      BUT, since global warming has been exposed as the complete farce that it is we've been seeing a lot of stories lately (not specifically here) about how we may be entering a 'cooling trim' or at worst we may be seeing the end of the Holocene era.

      I suspect that the 'global warming' brigade are about to start screaming prophesies of doom relating to 'global cooling' also, I suspect if we don't invest heavily in certain 'green' technologies.

      1. Mike Richards Silver badge


        Is an epoch not an era.

        And there's plenty of reasons not to even consider it a real epoch at all. It's shorter than most of the Pleistocene interglacials and there's no reason to think the glaciations have ended. It'd be better if we just considered ourselves living in an ongoing Pleistocene.

        Mind you I have some sympathies with those that consider anything after the end of the PreCambian as geological 'drift'.

        1. Gulfie

          "Living in an ongling Pleistoscene"

          Great. Can I change the shape of the UK to move my home closer to my work? Grab a big lump of green plasticene to fill the hole in Shropshire and create a new hill somewhere in Surrey with my house on the top...

      2. Ed Blackshaw Silver badge

        As a rational interjection

        Might I suggest that whilst certain members of the scientific community have acted in a less than scrupulous manner, that doesn't indicate that man-made global warming is entirely invented. There is a lot of good scientific evidence to support the fact that increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases cause warming. Note my use of the word 'fact' there. It can be demonstrated from first principles with a little knowledge of physics and chemistry that pollutants such as carbon dioxide and methane absorb solar radiation and re-emit it at shorter wavelengths, leading to a larger portion of the incoming heat being retained, which leads to a warming effect in the atmosphere. It is only the measurements of the effects that are in question. If you doubt this, read up on the subject until you understand it. And by read up, I mean learn the science behind it, rather than the rhetoric.

        1. Adrian Challinor

          RE: As a rational interjection

          I agree that people should read up on the effect of greenhouse gases. One of these people might well be yourself.

          1) The major greenhouse gas is not pollutants such as carbon-dioxide or methane, it is water vapour. There are recorded periods when these gases were in much higher than they are now, and which did not result in runaway greenhouse effects.

          2) Almost all the "scientific liturature" has to be put in to the category of: not proven. The analysis has not and now cannot be reproduced. All the liturature harks back to a small number of specific papers that have cherry-picked their data to get the effect that they want, or the methodology is not available for anyone to perr revierw.

          Now , I do agree that pollution is intrinsically bad, and I do support efforts to reduce, specifically, airborne emissions. But lets do it on the grounds that its bad, not because some pseudo science says it will nuke the earth.

        2. Charles Manning

          So the science doesn't matter?

          Another of those "who cares if the science is made up, the facts are there anyway" arguments.

          I agree wholeheartedly that we're probably stomping the planet harder than we should and I agree that pollution is bad, however that does not mean we should just act regardless of good science.

          The biggest problem we have is that anything we do plays off one set of potential actions against others. To do that we need solid science.

          As an example, consider the retreat of the Mt Kilimanjaro and Mt Kenya glaciers. The AGW folks will have us believe that this is due to Californian Hummer drivers. Those that think it is due to reduced local precipitation will point to localised deforestation and land use changes reducing the water that gets to the top to refresh the glacier. If the latter is true, then the green option might be to send Kenya and Tanzania subsidised kerosene for cooking so that they stop chopping down forests for fire wood.

          The point of the science is to help us understand the issues better so that we can make good decisions. To achieve that, we need good impartial science, not the crap we've been served by UEA et al.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Paris Hilton

          @As a rational interjection

          "...carbon dioxide and methane absorb solar radiation and re-emit it at shorter wavelengths, ..."

          It does what now?

  2. Tom Paine


    Hardly news; .

    OK, OK, it's a new paper and was presumably linked to the famous (to some of us) LPSC conference which is just winding up, but a bit more context would be nice. . (Hit the "Program with abstracts" link (PDF) for hours and hours of fascinating reading. LPSC abstracts are exactly the right length for the interested lay-person.)

    I must admit I started reading this piece looking for the nutty global warming denialist angle; pleasantly surprised there isn't one. Keep it up please.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I keenly await the deluge of posts ...

    ... from all the climate change sceptics. These climate models are not

    to be relied upon! ;-)

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      There is no such thing ...

      ... as a "climate change sceptic". It is accepted that climates change - I haven't even heard the most rabid christian fundamentalist arguing otherwise. The point at issue when talking about scepticism is whether anything humans have done/can do makes any difference to it.

      1. Displacement Activity


        25% of British people would disagree with you.

  4. Anonymous Coward

    global worming

    And do you realise how much the earth has warmed up since then!

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      @global worming (sic)

      My goodness. When I read the title, the idea of some deity or other stuffing a powder or drench down the Earths throat was really alarming (livestock joke)!

      Maybe the human race are being likened to tape-worm parasites on the Earth, and Climate change is the way to kill us off!

  5. Huntsman

    Climate Change!

    It was those pesky eukaryotic groups who caused it. They'll have been driving around in their gas guzzlers, using carrier bags and not keeping a check on their carbon footprint (or equivalent motion mechanism).

    We need to get a tax slapped on them right now if we are to avoid a snowball situation in future.

  6. Andy 6

    Star Wars was a documentary ????

    Hoth. . . . . . . . . . .

  7. Mal Adapted
    Thumb Up

    Good piece, Lewis

    Another calm, well-informed climate piece by Lewis Page. Please, El Reg, let Lewis write all climate stories, and give gleeful science-denier Orlowski the celebrity beat!

  8. Mike Richards Silver badge

    Moving rocks

    'Tropical rocks from the Sturtian, which have since migrated up to remote northwestern Canada, show unmistakable signs of having been covered in big ice back then.'

    More correctly, the rocks haven't migrated. Canada has.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Canada moving

      Yup - away from the US.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Yes, the world has been hotter in the past; it has been colder in the past. There is no doubt that if the earth soon returns to either extreme, it would be devastating to the social order as we know it.

    The question isn't whether the earth gets hot and cold. It is a statistical fact that the global average temperature is on an upward trend. The questions are: (1) how far it will go, and (2) whether mankind is driving most of that change.

    I'm surprised; it seems most of the readers (or at those commenting) are in the denialism camp. The climate scientists are derided as doing it only for fame and fortune, and everything they do is suspect and flawed. Yet if any scientist announced a counter theory or counter evidence, somehow these scientists are to be trusted. Most people simply have their minds made up and chose the evidence which agrees with their preconceived notions.

    For me, I know very little about the science, as I suspect 99% of the reg registers do (and no, reading screeds on forums and blogs doesn't make one an expert). I'll defer to the consensus opinion, which is overwhelmingly in favor of the notion that mankind is putting its future at risk with profligate burning of oil, gas, and coal.

    Let the down votes begin!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Too many round here

      think a computing qualification makes you a scientist, and also think that no-one can be trusted, unless they agree with what the thought in the first place, hence all the anti climate change anti religion, anti big business ranting. They will rant against anything they disagree with claiming free thought, but if you read comments you will find that the same people will blindly follow what they do agree with despite overwhelming evidence. They will call names and shout and scream saying climate change is wrong yet can offer no accepted evidence to help their cause, beyond a few fringe scientists, who they will claim are not fringe loons, but forced there by the mainstream...

      Allot of them are like flat earthers, saying things like "you cant prove the earth is round" saying the pictures from space are fake.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    You will not feel so smart

    if the climatologists are right for the wrong reason and instead of a lovely Costa del Sol in Clapton you get excessive atmospheric heating leading to increased water vapour in the upper atmosphere producing a postive feedback loop that will make C02 look like puff pustry compaired. Or the increased water vapour could choose to fall heavily in the Northern Latitudes taking us into a new ice age in a negative feedback loop - hey ho

  11. Luther Blissett

    Real global warming

    I recall one estimate of oceans reaching a temperature of 47 deg C when the global snowball finally melted. And then there was the pre-cambrian explosion - a Darwin Award era if ever there was one - and the film James Cameron should have made.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    The ignorance...

    Well, since there is so much ignorance going around...I'll put it to you simply. The earth goes through natural heating and cooling periods. Man Made global warming has been helping it along for quite some time now. It melts earth ice and changes the ocean currents (happening now). Once this occurs a new global ice age is expected to envelope the earth. The U.K. will be first. I'd suggest you go buy an arctic coat. You will be frozen within 50 years. It will happen so fast your head will spin. And thanks for your destructive, overbearing, self indulgent behaviors. You've done an excellent job closing your eyes and being a good stuart of our home.

  13. Number6

    Nice Story

    Of course, we all know it's complete fiction because the Earth is only about 6,000 years old. By the same token, we're all descended from Mr and Mrs Noah, who sadly couldn't fit all the dinosaurs onto the Ark, which is why they all died out. None of this meteorite from space nonsense.

    Mine's the one with something really good in the pockets, must smoke some more (no, it's not spaghetti).

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Be a bit of a bugger Number6............

      if those "fantastic" Bible stories are in fact truth and a large chunk of paleontological science is utter bo****ks ;-)

      Who is Number 1 BTW ? Be seeing you.

    2. deadlockvictim Silver badge



      You are factually incorrect about dinosaurs and the Ark. Had they existed, then there would have been enough room on the Ark for them. There was enough room on the Ark for everything.

      Dinosaurs bones were put in the ground to test us.

      That is all. Please report to your Sunday school teacher for re-education.


      Church Police.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Re-education indeed

        Agree. As the Pastafarians have long taught, such tests of our faith separate real pirates from pretender wannabes with their untestable speculations on marine engineering and the bio-mass of pairs of all then-extant species.

        And fire, to symbolize our apocalyptic fate, our slow burn in approaching it (obligatory global-warming tie-in), and my head at the instant before explosion.

  14. Anonymous Coward


    Not another excuse for my boss to heap more work on me - "It's for the good of life on Earth!". Lewis, don't do that please.

    < because I need a strong one now.

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Oh, for christ's sake...

    There was nothing in the article about human-caused global warming! NOTHING! The article IS NOT ABOUT WHAT YOU'RE DISCUSSING!$%#@

    For god's sake take your wretched pseudo-political posturing somewhere else. I'm sick to death of anything and everything being hijacked either by climate change politics, healthcare politics, taxation politics, or whatever goddamned f*cking politics! How about we get it out of the way now - It's the tea partiers! It's Obama! It's socialized medicine! Hang the pedophiles! Kids these days! Welfare state! Immigrants did it! Obama is a welfare-using socialized pedophile immigrant tea-partier!

    I've had enough politics, so please - shut the ever-loving f*ck up and talk about the f*cking article!


    *goes crazy and runs away*

    1. Maverick

      @ David W

      do you work for Yahoo?

  16. Anonymous Coward


    "Snowball Earth': Glaciers, ice packs once met at Equator" Impossible! Everybody knows that the Earth is 6,000 years old.

  17. Aron


    Michael Mann's tree ring derived hockey stick with hidden decline only goes back 1000 years and ignores such things as the Roman Warm Period (deleted from Wikipedia), the Holocene Climate Optimum or anything earlier as mentioned by this article. Therefore this new world religion we are being made to believe in cannot accept the possibility of a planet older than a thousand years. Heathens all who believe otherwise! Hail to the modern Cyruses of the EU and UN! Death to Spartaaaaaa!

  18. Coltek


    The old currant bun doesn't look too busy to me right now....

  19. Simon Brown

    the worry is the negative feedback loop

    @Mike Richards first of all - Canada hasn't migrated. Some of the plates that make up that part of Canada have migrated in so much as the sediment was laid down and lithified at or around the equator however many millions of years ago and those bits of plate are now up in Northwest Canada. Other bits of Canada will be from other longitudes / latitudes and will be parts of plates that previously or subsequently collided with older bits of "Canada" to make up what is now Canada.

    The geology of Great Britain contains bits of rock from all over the world, munged together into what is now this island.

    Secondly looking at the timescale of these glaciations is alarming. 5 million years between snowball earth and complete absence of ice points to some interesting feedback mechanisms. Although life on earth today is completely unrecognisable from pre-Cambrian life, there will be some common features such as the presence of organisms that photosynthesize and the presence of organisms that eat the photosynthesizers. By turning sunlight and CO2 into oxygen, body mass and energy it is clear that life on earth has shaped and moulded the planet as much as any other process occuring on the planet's surface. It is also clear that the processes that were around 700mya are, give or take, around at the moment. It would be interesting to note whether subsequent glaciations were immediately preceded by rising temperatures and CO2 levels - which could be measured or at least indicated from foraminifera. If this turns out to be the case then there is probably some sort of feedback loop driving it. Might be something along the lines of:

    1.) CO2 increases, temperatures increase, basal ice mass temperatures increase, ice starts melting, salinity of oceans drops.

    2.) Decrease in salinity of oceans slows ocean currents which leads to increased variation in temperatures as ocean heat transfer slows down. Atmospheric warming however leads to increased precipitation, higher levels of atmospheric water (to drive the feedback) and accelerates atmospheric heat transfer from equator to poles.

    3.) At some point the mass of cold, melted, low-saline water from the poles becomes too great and in a move similar to El Nino, it rushes under the warm equatorial water. At this point there is a massive ingress of cold water at the equator pushing the warm water out to the poles, cooling as it goes. The warm water triggers massive evaporation and subsequent precipitation, as snow, at the poles leading to expansion of icesheets which then leads to consequential high albedo and cooling.

    4.) in this way a global warming phase is halted and reverted back to a cooling phase which could see disastrous consequences for us humans.

    It is irrelevant what contribution towards that heating-cooling cycle is anthropogenic although the mechanism makes it clear that if there is an anthropogenic contribution, it is only to make the eventual "temperature crash" much worse.

    I may of course be entirely wrong, it's been a while since I did much paleoclimatology / paleoglaciation stuff.

  20. Supreme Guru of Everything
    Thumb Down

    I'm sure they took in to account pole shifts?

    We all know that pole shifts have occurred many times and thus ice caps would change position and possibly cover every part of earth at one point or another.

    1. Quirkafleeg

      All compass points

      Magnetic ice? Interesting.

  21. Displacement Activity


    Reality check...

    "Now, researchers from Harvard uni in the States, funded by the US government, say they have found ironclad proof that there were glaciers right down on the Equator at that time."

    No. They found "tropical rocks", which show "unmistakeable signs" of "having been covered in big ice". *Nothing* about the equator. What is "big ice" anyway? Is it biggerer than the biggish ice at the top of Kilimanjaro?

    This is how they interpret this find:

    "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," he says. "So our result implies quite strongly that ice would have been found at all latitudes during the Sturtian glaciation."

    "Ironclad". "Implies quite strongly". Does not compute. What's the real story here? Journalists can't read scientific articles? There's precious little "science" in "climate science"? Someone at Harvard needs to get a paper out and has done no work? Science has run out of proper science to publish? Do "researchers from Harvard uni in the States" have an agenda? What is it? Are they loony deniers? Are they loony supporters? Come on, Lewis.

  22. Neil Gardner

    La La La

    I refuse to accept any science that interferes with my god-given right to drive my SUV on business or pleasure, wherever and whenever I want. How could anyone possibly think that human inegenuity has limits. Green fascists, them all. The ruling lizards have a plan to decimate the earth's population with all this climate change hoax. Must be true because I read it in the Daily Mail and on Rense Dot Com.

    Anwyay I can thank AGW believers for expanding my vocabulary. Before they publicised their whacky theory that the activity of 6.8 billion human beings and 800 million motor vehicles effects the eco-system, I didn't know the word anthropogenic. Now I do and I use it liberally to impress all these boffins....

  23. Rune Moberg Silver badge

    Yeah, no, but

    OK, so let us assume man-made global warming is an undeniable fact... I am surprised by all the focus CO2 gets. What about NOx and particle emissions? All this CO2 focus (part of a natural cycle and something nature seems to handle quite well) seems to make people forget about NOx.

    In some cities the air is so polluted they urge people to not drive at all. And that pollution is not related to CO2 at all.

    Are we 100% absolutely certain that the current level of CO2 emissions will kill us all? We can't even spend one minute thinking about other air pollutants?

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