Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Snowball Earth Paperback – April 5, 2004
Scientific Teaching Series
Shop the Scientific Teaching Series from Macmillan.
Top Customer Reviews
Author, Gabrielle Walker earned her Ph.D. in chemistry at Cambridge University and spent seven years as a features editor at "New Scientist." The latter experience definitely had a hand in molding her breezy, yet clear and conscientious style. She follows her intrepid geologists to the ends of the Earth like an eager cub reporter in some 1930s B-movie, peppering them with questions, almost getting trampled by an African elephant in the Namibian bush, beset by freezing fog in the Kalahari Desert, clambering down the windswept, godforsaken rocks of Mistaken Point in Newfoundland.
This book is a combination travel guide to some of the least habitable places on earth, biographical sketches of the scientists who developed and tested the 'Snowball Earth' theory, and an introduction to the painstaking science behind the newest, most audacious 'deep time' history of our planet.
Before we get to 'Snowball Earth,' let me give you a flavor of Walker's running travelogue. Here she is speaking of Mistaken Point: "Nobody could love these barren lands, not even their mother. They are dreary and damp, their plants the color of overcooked spinach and rusty nails; when the wind is not buffeting them or rain beating them down, they are shrouded in fog. The pale, thin caribou wander over them like lost souls."
Now, on to the theory as expounded by this book. Several times in the history of Earth, most recently 700 million years ago, our plant froze completely over, possibly because all of the continents had migrated close to the Equator. This deep-freeze may have ended the multi-billion-year reign of single-cell slime and given a kick-start to the Cambrian explosion of complex life. Snowball Earth was finally melted by a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, courtesy of volcanic eruptions which turned our planet into a hellish, hurricane-ripped green-house. Eventually the excess carbon dioxide was absorbed back into the oceans and the planetary crust. Multi-cellular life reveled in the first decent climate it had ever experience, not realizing that meteor strikes and volcanic eruptions would occasionally wipe out up to 90% of its evolved species.
Could we get a repeat of Snowball Earth? Sure. As a matter of fact, the continents seem to be sliding toward the Equator again, which will allow ice to build up at the Poles and advance toward Earth's bulging midline. Will this happen during our lifetime? Nah. As Gabrielle Walker so vividly expresses it, the continental plates move at roughly the same speed our fingernails grow.
The geologists, paleontologists, and their science form the core of this marvelously written book. Walker does a meticulous job of relating both the scientific and the human side of the 'Snowball Earth' controversy. Her incisive portraits of the scientific movers and shakers, most especially the fiercely competitive Paul Hoffman, will stick in your mind long after you forget about drop stones, tidal rhythmites, and magnetic reversals in the Flinders ice rocks.
I'd strongly recommend reading the book if you've got to study this theory, or even as an interesting read if you're into earth systems science (in which case Thin Ice, Ice Mud and Blood or Rare Earth are other good books to look at).