Snowball Earth

Beating the freeze

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Science  03 Jan 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6473, pp. 37
DOI: 10.1126/science.367.6473.37-a

Artist's conception of a Snowball Earth almost entirely covered by ice

PHOTO: CHRIS BUTLER/SCIENCE SOURCE

Despite multiple episodes during the Cryogenian period in which the planet was mostly covered in ice for millions of years—essentially shutting down air–sea exchange and causing widespread ocean anoxia—marine aerobic eukaryotes somehow survived those Snowball Earth conditions. How did they do it? Lechte et al. show that oxygenated glacial meltwater was supplied to the oceans near ice sheet grounding lines, offering a lifeline to microbial communities there. This process may have created glaciomarine oxygen oases that were critical to the survival and evolution of those organisms during episodes of extreme glaciation.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 116, 25478 (2019).

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