Climatic Instability and Regional Glacial Advances in the Late Ediacaran

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Judith L Hannah1,2, Holly J Stein1,2, Nathan Marolf1 and Bernard Bingen3, (1)Colorado State University, AIRIE Program, Fort Collins, CO, United States, (2)University of Oslo, Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics, Oslo, Norway, (3)Geological Survey of Norway, Trondheim, Norway
The Ediacaran Period closed out the environmentally raucous Neoproterozoic Era with the last of multiple glacial events and the first ephemeral glimmer of multicellular life. As such, evolution of Earth’s biosphere and the marine environments that nurtured this nascent biota are of particular interest. Because the Ediacaran biota appear in the stratigraphic record just above tillites in many localities, inferences are naturally drawn to link glaciation to bioevolution. Here we review known controls on the timing and extent of the late Ediacaran Gaskier and Varanger glacial events, bolstered by new constraints on the Moelv tillite of South Norway.

The elusive mid-Ediacaran glacial strata are poorly dated, patchy in distribution, and relatively limited in thickness. The type Gaskier glaciogenic units in Newfoundland are 582 to 584 Ma, based on U-Pb zircon ages from intercalated ash beds [1]. The Varanger glaciogenic deposits in northern Norway, in contrast, remain only roughly constrained to ca. 630 to 560 Ma.

Post-Gaskier negative carbon isotope excursions (CIEs) have been reported from multiple localities in both China and SW United States, suggesting climatic instability in the late Ediacaran. Although most localities lack solid geochronology, paleontologic constraints place the Hongtiegou glacial diamictite and accompanying CIE in the Chaidam Basin, NW China, in the latest Ediacaran, ca. 555 Ma [2]. We previously suggested that the Moelv tillite in south Norway was roughly equivalent to the Gaskier, based on an imprecise Re-Os age of ~560 Ma [3] for the underlying Biri shale. Reanalysis of these data shows that the upper part of the shale section was disturbed by a redox front during the Caledonian orogeny. The undisturbed lower part of the section yields a more precise Model 1 isochron age of 559.5 ± 6.2 Ma, clearly post-dating the Gaskier event well outside analytical uncertainty.

These new results bolster arguments that the Gaskier glaciation was not a global “snowball Earth” event; rather, there may have been multiple Ediacaran glacial advances – perhaps only at high latitudes – marked by tillites of regional, but not global extent.

[1] Bowring et al. 2002, Astrobiology 2: 457-458. [2] Shen et al. 2010, Prec. Res. 177: 241-252. [3] Hannah et al. 2007, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 71: A378.