How Earth became a giant snowball 700 million years ago

Around 717 million years ago, the Earth froze over. The Sturtian glaciation, as this event is known, was no ordinary Ice Age but one so extreme that it caused the Earth to become a giant snowball for at least five million years. How it happened has been a mystery for the ages – till now. In a new study, Harvard scientists suggest that the answer might lie in the way volcanic eruptions caused the Earth’s temperatures to plummet.

At the heart of this mystery is the Franklin Large Igneous Province (LIP), which extends across modern-day Alaska, Greenland and northern Canada. An LIP is a vast swath of igneous (magmatic) rock that is associated with a hotspot – regions within the mantle where rocks melt to form magma. The birth of these formations are cataclysmic events resulting in various kinds of mayhem, including mass extinctions and devastating climate change, as enormous clouds of volcanic matter are released into the atmosphere for geological short periods (read: a few million years).

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