Geochemistry, Mineralogy, Volcanology Editors' Highlights

Measuring Paleoclimate During a Deep-Time Deep Freeze

New application of clumped-isotope thermometry to 700-Myr rocks documents large climate swings related to Snowball Earth glaciation and offers better understanding of an earlier Earth system.

Source: AGU Advances


Mention major glaciations and many people’s thoughts will go to the geologically recent climate swings across which our species came to be. But some 700 million years ago in the Neoproterozoic Era, at the dawn of our more modern biosphere, Earth’s systems conspired to shape perhaps the most dramatic climate shifts of all, the Snowball Earth glaciations that saw much of the planet freeze. Knowledge about these events derives from the geologic record of rock types and associations, which provide strong but non-quantitative constraints. Mackey et al. [2020] for the first time apply the technique of clumped isotope thermometry to ancient carbonate rocks from Svalbard, currently in the Arctic but during the Cryogenian, located in the tropics. Their careful work, highlighted in a Viewpoint in this issue by Macdonald [2020], finds a ~25˚C temperature difference between glacial and preglacial units, and opens the door to using such geochemical proxies to more directly investigate biogeochemical cycles in deep time.

Citation: Mackey, T., Jost, A., Creveling, J., & Bergmann, K. [2020]. A decrease to low carbonate clumped isotope temperatures in Cryogenian strata. AGU Advances, 1, e2019AV000159.

—Peter Zeitler, Editor, AGU Advances

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