Paleoproterozoic snowball Earth: Extreme climatic and geochemical global change and its biological consequences

Joseph L. Kirschvink, Eric J. Gaidos, L. Elizabeth Bertani, Nicholas J. Beukes, Jens Gutzmer, Linda N. Maepa, Rachel E. Steinberger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

347 Citations (Scopus)


Geological, geophysical, and geochemical data support a theory that Earth experienced several intervals of intense, global glaciation ('snowball Earth' conditions) during Precambrian time. This snowball model predicts that postglacial, greenhouse-induced warming would lead to the deposition of banded iron formations and cap carbonates. Although global glaciation would have drastically curtailed biological productivity, melting of the oceanic ice would also have induced a cyanobacterial bloom, leading to an oxygen spike in the euphotic zone and to the oxidative precipitation of iron and manganese. A Paleoproterozoic snowball Earth at 2.4 Giga-annum before present (Ga) immediately precedes the Kalahari Manganese Field in southern Africa, suggesting that this rapid and massive change in global climate was responsible for its deposition. As large quantities of O2 are needed to precipitate this Mn, photosystem II and oxygen radical protection mechanisms must have evolved before 2.4 Ga. This geochemical event may have triggered a compensatory evolutionary branching in the Fe/Mn superoxide dismutase enzyme, providing a Paleoproterozoic calibration point for studies of molecular evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1400-1405
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2000

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Multidisciplinary


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