Articles | Volume 7, issue 1
Research article
10 Mar 2011
Research article |  | 10 Mar 2011

Initiation of a Marinoan Snowball Earth in a state-of-the-art atmosphere-ocean general circulation model

A. Voigt, D. S. Abbot, R. T. Pierrehumbert, and J. Marotzke

Abstract. We study the initiation of a Marinoan Snowball Earth (~635 million years before present) with the state-of-the-art atmosphere-ocean general circulation model ECHAM5/MPI-OM. This is the most sophisticated model ever applied to Snowball initiation. A comparison with a pre-industrial control climate shows that the change of surface boundary conditions from present-day to Marinoan, including a shift of continents to low latitudes, induces a global-mean cooling of 4.6 K. Two thirds of this cooling can be attributed to increased planetary albedo, the remaining one third to a weaker greenhouse effect. The Marinoan Snowball Earth bifurcation point for pre-industrial atmospheric carbon dioxide is between 95.5 and 96% of the present-day total solar irradiance (TSI), whereas a previous study with the same model found that it was between 91 and 94% for present-day surface boundary conditions. A Snowball Earth for TSI set to its Marinoan value (94% of the present-day TSI) is prevented by doubling carbon dioxide with respect to its pre-industrial level. A zero-dimensional energy balance model is used to predict the Snowball Earth bifurcation point from only the equilibrium global-mean ocean potential temperature for present-day TSI. We do not find stable states with sea-ice cover above 55%, and land conditions are such that glaciers could not grow with sea-ice cover of 55%. Therefore, none of our simulations qualifies as a "slushball" solution. While uncertainties in important processes and parameters such as clouds and sea-ice albedo suggest that the Snowball Earth bifurcation point differs between climate models, our results contradict previous findings that Snowball Earth initiation would require much stronger forcings.