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Published August 1992 | Published
Book Section - Chapter Open

Late Proterozoic Low-Latitude Global Glaciation: the Snowball Earth


A fundamental question of earth history concerns the nature of the Late Proterozoic glaciogenic sequences that are known from almost all of the major cratonic areas, including North America, the Gondwana continents, and the Baltic Platform. A major controversy involves the probable latitude of formation for these deposits- were they formed at relatively high latitudes, as were those of the Permian and our modern glacial deposits, or were many of them formed much closer to the equator? Arguments supporting a low depositional latitude for many of these units have been discussed extensively for the past 30 years (e.g., Harland 1964), beginning with the field observations that some of the diamictites had a peculiar abundance of carbonate fragments, as if the ice had moved over carbonate platforms. Indeed, many of these units, such as the Rapitan Group of the Canadian Cordillera, are bounded above and below by thick carbonate sequences which, at least for the past 100 Ma, are only known to have been formed in the tropical belt within about 33° of the equator (Ziegler et al. 1984). Other anomalies include dropstones and varves in the carbonates, as well as evaporites (for a complete review, see Williams 1975). Either the earth was radically different during the late Precambrian glacial episode(s), or the major continental land masses spent an extraordinary amount of time traversing back and forth between the tropics and the poles.

Additional Information

Supported by the PPRG and NSF grants EAR-8721391 and PYI-8351370, and contributions from the Chevron Oil Field Research Company and the Arco Foundation. Contribution no. 4807 of the Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences of the California Institute of Technology.

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