Huge volcanic activity led to ‘snowball earth’

Huge volcanic activity led to ‘snowball earth’

A storm of fire and ice led to ‘snowball Earth,’ says new study.

During the largest glaciation event in history – called the ‘Sturtian snowball Earth’ event – ice covered our planet from pole-to-pole, Harvard scientists say. They  have pinpointed the start of that event to about 717 million years ago.

Snowball Earth – Courtesy NASA

At about the same time, a huge volcanic event known as the Franklin Large Igneous Province devastated an area stretching all the way from present-day Alaska to Greenland.

We’re talking about an immense area. The Franklin Large Igneous Province covers more than 2,000,000 square km (770,000 sq miles), about the size of all of Mexico. And it’s all buried beneath a layer of basalt some 1.1 km (3,600 ft) deep.

The researchers wonder if the sulphur dioxide emitted by this huge volcanic event might have rapidly cooled the Earth.

I wonder, of course, how much of that ancient volcanic activity took place under water. That would have heated the water, thereby pumping huge amounts of moisture into the skies, skies already cooled by the above-water volcanic activity. And then – wham! – instantaneous ice age.

As I say in Not by Fire but by Ice, “warmer seas and colder skies…a deadly combination (Chapter 10, Fish Stew.)

By the way, I think it is no coincidence that the Deccan Traps in India can be associated with the K-T extinction, or that the Siberian Traps in Russia can be associated with the Great Permian extinction.

Thanks to John Topal for these links

8 thoughts on “Huge volcanic activity led to ‘snowball earth’

  1. I have always been dubious of extra-terrestrial driven extinctions while we know how much “power” can be released from the earth.

    I have always been sceptical of “snowball” Earth – the oceans hold so much thermal energy.

    However Robert’s explanation of underwater volcanic activity pumping huge amounts of water, and therefore huge amounts of thermal energy, into skies where sunlight is reflected is a mechanism I had not considered.

    The oceans cool whilst the Earth radiates more to space as the atmospheric “pollution” prevents vital sunlight reaching the surfaces. Such a scenario is perfectly viable for ocean cooling – the freezing only need take place on the top few metres.

    Such a scenario is the only one I could support yet none of the experts have ever suggested the role of underwater volcanism in their speculations to my knowledge.

    While the oceans hold the thermal energy necessary to maintain a liquid state there could be no snowball Earth but Robert’s explanation is visionary.

    Today’s climate alarmists celebrate El-Niño events because they warm the atmosphere and “allow” them to claim things like hottest year EVAH.

    However El-Niño events remove thermal energy from the oceans leaving us vulnerable to extreme volcanism.

    • Thanks for the link, Wanda. Interesting to note that when you click on it, you get a warning. I ignored it, and didn’t have a problem with the blog. Makes you wonder why this blog was being flagged up as being risky.

  2. And isn’t it true that during periods of reduced/reducing solar activity, such as during the current cycles, volcanic activity picks because of changes in the solar wind and in things like magnetism, etc., that excite the magma and cause of enable increased volcanic activity?

    That’s what I’ve read here on the site. I don’t imagine we are heading into being a ball of ice again but perhaps to such a cooling state, more or less, as during the LIA.

    • Think more on the lines of gravity and solar tidal waves. During such a GSM AMP event, the Sun changes orbit from a circular to a much more Trefoil orbital path around the Solar System BarryCentre, such abrupt angular changes in orbit by the solar system’s largest mass object affects the inner rocky planets, particularly those with crustal tectonic plates, and a semi liquid inner core around the solid centre.
      Volcanism increases significantly during, and more so towards the latter stages of the GSM event(s) and over several AMP affected cycles.

      The volcanism continue over time, with a significant lag period during the following cycles when Sun spots have return to more normal values, so I don’t think this is a radiation event, but gravity waves, oh yes!
      At least four of the previous GSM events LALIA (3), Wolf (2), Maunder(2) and Dalton (2) have been accompanied by T6/T7 or larger very large volcanic events with Tambora, the recent largest in the latter stages of Dalton. AD 79 coincided with two separate shallow GSM event, and 1631 during Maunder
      Hatepe eruption AD 232 coincided with a shallow GSM event A.D. 946 at the start of the Wolf GSM during the 60 year period between Spoorer and Maunder during Maunder

  3. Whether or Not those XTRA Huge Volcanism Events occurred on land or sea, the Immense Volumes of their Overall Ejectae Umbrella Clouds – remained in Earth’s Atmosphere and Stratosphere for 1000’s of years and more — very effectively Blocking Solar Radiation.

  4. I have an issue with the idea of a snowball earth for a couple of reasons:
    1. What of the GHG effect of the NO2, NO, CO, CO2, water vapor, methane and particulate matter? Is all of that overwhelmed by the SO2 emissions? Have they tested the basalt to determine SO2 content?
    2. The albedo effect would likely not be overcome by future CO2 emissions from further volcanism.
    3. Why are no other large-scale volcanic episodes associated with other glaciation events?
    4. Assuming comparable underwater volcanism then as seen today, and knowing water’s thermal latent extent is nearly 1000x times that of air, how likely is it that sea surface temperatures would be reduced to approximately 28 Fahrenheit to freeze, and do so in a manner that the glaciation seen in tropical zones was the result of presumably thousands of feet of water lowered elevation being built up on land?

  5. I think a lot of people living near volcanoes that are dormant just lull themselves into a mindless state of not thinking about them. Sometimes the effects of an eruption are so enormous you can mistake them for something else.

    For example, on a trip I took up Rt 395 in CA (into the Eastern Sierras) from LA county to Bishop and Mammoth Lake… I noticed places once you get north of the Death Valley cutoff… where there appeared to be mountains on both sides of the road.. but which I realized were actually just huge ash piles from volcanic activity, I assume possibly the Yellowstone caldera.

    Amazing, but a bit scary too!

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