Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Research article
16 May 2012
Research article |  | 16 May 2012

The initiation of modern soft and hard Snowball Earth climates in CCSM4

J. Yang, W. R. Peltier, and Y. Hu

Abstract. Geochemical and geological evidence has suggested that several global-scale glaciation events occurred during the Neoproterozoic Era in the interval from 750–580 million years ago. The initiation of these glaciations is thought to have been a consequence of the combined influence of a low level of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration and an approximately 6% weakening of solar luminosity. The latest version of the Community Climate System Model (CCSM4) is employed herein to explore the detailed combination of forcings required to trigger such extreme glaciation conditions under present-day circumstances of geography and topography. It is found that runaway glaciation occurs in the model under the following conditions: (1) an 8–9% reduction in solar radiation with 286 ppmv CO2 or (2) a 6% reduction in solar radiation with 70–100 ppmv CO2. These thresholds are moderately different from those found to be characteristic of the previously employd CCSM3 model reported recently in Yang et al. (2012a,b), for which the respective critical points corresponded to a 10–10.5% reduction in solar radiation with 286 ppmv CO2 or a 6% reduction in solar radiation with 17.5–20 ppmv CO2. The most important reason for these differences is that the sea ice/snow albedo parameterization employed in CCSM4 is believed to be more realistic than that in CCSM3. Differences in cloud radiative forcings and ocean and atmosphere heat transports also influence the bifurcation points. These results are potentially very important, as they are to serve as control on further calculations which will be devoted to an investigation of the impact of continental configuration.

We demonstrate that there exist ''soft Snowball'' Earth states, in which the fractional sea ice coverage reaches approximately 60–65%, land masses in low latitudes are covered by perennial snow, and runaway glaciation does not develop. This is consistent with our previous results based upon CCSM3. Although our results cannot exclude the possibility of a ''hard Snowball'' solution, it is suggested that a ''soft Snowball'' solution for the Neoproterozoic remains entirely plausible.