Did photosynthetic organisms take refuge in ice shadows during Snowball Earth events?

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 10:50 AM
Adam J Campbell1, Stephen G Warren1,2 and Edwin D Waddington1, (1)University of Washington Seattle Campus, Department of Earth and Space Sciences, Seattle, WA, United States, (2)University of Washington Seattle Campus, Astrobiology Program, Seattle, WA, United States
During the Snowball Earth glaciations of the Neoproterozoic, the Earth’s oceans may have been completely covered with ice. Global ice cover, thick enough to block the transmission of light, would have prohibited the survival of photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms living under the ice cover. Fossil records indicate these organisms persisted during the Snowball Earth glaciations. The persistence of these organisms presents a complication to the Snowball Earth theory. If the Earth’s oceans were unable to survive in planet’s ocean during the Snowball Earth events, then in what environments did these organisms survive?

Previously, our research has shown that narrow arms of the ocean, analogous to the modern Red Sea, could have been refugia for photosynthetic eukaryotes during Snowball Earth events. We have demonstrated that for a limited range of climate conditions, ice flow into an arm of the sea is restricted sufficiently to allow for the sea to remain partially free from sea-glacier penetration, a necessary condition for these regions to act as a refugia for photosynthetic eukaryotes during a Snowball Earth event. Presently, we demonstrate that thin-ice zones can form on the leeward sides of obstructions in channels. These thin-ice zones, which we call ice shadows, may have acted as refugia for photosynthetic eukaryotes during Snowball Earth events. We test the ability of ice shadows to form in channels where, in the absence of an obstruction, sea-glacier ice would be thick enough to prohibit the transmission of light. We find that ice shadows can form behind obstructions of various sizes and over a range of climate conditions. This research adds to the range of environments where photosynthetic eukaryotes may have survived during the Snowball Earth events.