Neoproterozoic Glaciated Basins: A Critical Review of the Snowball Earth Hypothesis by Comparison with Phanerozoic Glaciations

  1. Michael J. Hambrey6,
  2. Poul Christoffersen6,7,
  3. Neil F. Glasser6 and
  4. Bryn Hubbard6
  1. J. L. Etienne1,3,
  2. P. A. Allen1,2,
  3. R. Rieu1,4 and
  4. E. Le Guerroué1,5

Published Online: 24 MAR 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9781444304435.ch19

Glacial Sedimentary Processes and Products

Glacial Sedimentary Processes and Products

How to Cite

Etienne, J. L., Allen, P. A., Rieu, R. and Le Guerroué, E. (2007) Neoproterozoic Glaciated Basins: A Critical Review of the Snowball Earth Hypothesis by Comparison with Phanerozoic Glaciations, in Glacial Sedimentary Processes and Products (eds M. J. Hambrey, P. Christoffersen, N. F. Glasser and B. Hubbard), Blackwell Publishing Ltd., Oxford, UK. doi: 10.1002/9781444304435.ch19

Editor Information

  1. 6

    Centre for Glaciology, Institute of Geography & Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Wales, Ceredigion SY23 3DB, UK

  2. 7

    Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, UK

Author Information

  1. 1

    Geological Institute, Department of Earth Sciences, ETH-Zentrum, Haldenbachstrasse 44, CH-8092 Zürich, Switzerland

  2. 2

    Department of Earth Science and Engineering, Imperial College London, South Kensington Campus, London SW7 2AS, UK

  3. 3

    Neftex Petroleum Consultants Ltd, 115BD Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxfordshire, OX14 4SA, UK

  4. 4

    Repsol YPF, Exploration & Production, Calle Orense 34, Planta 3a, 28020 Madrid, Spain

  5. 5

    Structure et Propriétés de la Matière, Géosciences Rennes, 263 Avenue du General, France

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 24 MAR 2009
  2. Published Print: 14 DEC 2007

Book Series:

  1. Special Publication Number 39 of the International Association of Sedimentologists

Book Series Editors:

  1. Isabel Montanez

Series Editor Information

  1. University of California, Davis, USA

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9781405183000

Online ISBN: 9781444304435



  • neoproterozoic glaciated basins - snowball earth hypothesis critical review;
  • palaeomagnetic record;
  • palaeoenvironmental discrimination of diamictite facies;
  • subglacial debris entrainment;
  • particle roundness and other shape parameters;
  • glacitectonic structures;
  • thicknesses of glacially influenced marine successions;
  • neoproterozoic palaeoglaciology


The Neoproterozoic is widely considered to have experienced some of the most severe climatic perturbations recorded in Earth history, with extensive glaciations often referred to as ‘Snowball Earth’ events. The Snowball Earth and competing hypotheses seek to explain a wide range of geological data on Neoproterozoic pre-, syn- and post-glacial successions including glacial sedimentology, chemostratigraphy, palaeoceanography, geochronology, palaeomagnetism and palaeogeography, geodynamics, tectonics, palaeontology and palaeobiogeochemistry. However, our understanding of the Phanerozoic and particularly the Cenozoic and contemporary glacial geological record is often relatively neglected when evaluating the evidence for apparent severe and prolonged periods of globally synchronous glaciation. This paper presents a review of the available geological data for Neoproterozoic glacial successions in the light of what we know about the Cenozoic and recent glacial record. Most Neoproterozoic successions are shown to exhibit spatial and temporal variability with sediment stacking patterns and facies associations indicative of dynamic ice masses. These characteristics are typical of sedimentary sequences deposited along glaciated continental margins throughout Earth history, without the need for global synchroneity or necessarily severe climatic excursions. Although recurrent very widespread glaciation is envisaged in the Neoproterozoic, the presence of analogous glacigenic and interglacial successions in the Neoproterozoic and Cenozoic suggest the operation of a similar set of processes across a similar range of depositional environments. Consequently, an unambiguous sedimentary record of hydrological shutdown during a prolonged global glaciation appears to be lacking. This indicates either a preservational bias in Neoproterozoic successions of the advance and recessional stages of glacial epochs, or the occurrence of dynamic, non-global glaciations during the Neoproterozoic.