Continental flood basalt weathering as a trigger for Neoproterozoic Snowball Earth
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Atmospheric CO2 levels and global climate are regulated on geological timescales by the silicate weathering feedback. However, this thermostat has failed multiple times in Earth's history, most spectacularly during the Cryogenian (c. 720–635 Ma) Snowball Earth episodes. The unique middle Neoproterozoic paleogeography of a rifting, low-latitude, supercontinent likely favored a globally cool climate due to the influence of the silicate weathering feedback and planetary albedo. Under these primed conditions, the emplacement and weathering of extensive continental flood basalt provinces may have provided the final trigger for runaway global glaciation. Weathering of continental flood basalts may have also contributed to the characteristically high carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) of Neoproterozoic seawater due to their elevated P contents. In order to test these hypotheses, we have compiled new and previously published Neoproterozoic Nd isotope data from mudstones in northern Rodinia (North America, Australia, Svalbard, and South China) and Sr isotope data from carbonate rocks.The Nd isotope data are used to model the mafic detrital input into sedimentary basins in northern Rodinia. The results reveal a dominant contribution from continental flood basalt weathering during the ca. 130 m.y. preceding the onset of Cryogenian glaciation, followed by a precipitous decline afterwards. These data are mirrored by the Sr isotope record, which reflects the importance of chemical weathering of continental flood basalts on solute fluxes to the early–middle Neoproterozoic ocean, including a pulse of unradiogenic Sr input into the oceans just prior to the onset of Cyrogenian glaciation. Hence, our new data support the hypotheses that elevated rates of flood basalt weathering contributed to both the high average δ13C of seawater in the Neoproterozoic and to the initiation of the first (Sturtian) Snowball Earth.
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