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Time Scale 1 - Cosmic Origins
Events - 1
The Big Bang:
13.7 billion years ago
2
The first stars:
13.5 billion years ago
3
Supernovas & heavy elements:
13.4 billion years ago
4
The first galaxies:
13 billion years ago
5
The solar system & earth:
4.6 billion years ago
6
First rocks, seas & atmosphere:
4.5 billion years ago
7
The first life:
3.5 billion years ago
8
Cyanobacteria, oxygen, & iron:
3 billion years ago
9
The first ice ages:
2.2 billion years ago
10
The first animals & sex:
1 billion years ago
>

Event 9

“SNOWBALL EARTH”
THE FIRST ICE AGES
2.2 billion years ago

Snowball earth through modern earth
"Snowball Earth." There is evidence that the Earth may have undergone periods of extreme cold, with ice covering much or even all of the planet multiple times in the ancient past. These periods have been called “Snowball Earth,” or in less extreme models, “Slushball Earth.”
Credit: Image by University of Bristol/NASA.

Imagine a world so cold that all of the surface water of the oceans froze solid, the entire earth covered with ice. The average temperature would have been 74 degrees below zero, with temperatures at the equator as cold as Antarctica is today. This may have happened at least three times in the earth’s history, first at around 2.2 billion years ago, then at 710 million years ago, and again about 640 million years ago. Simple forms of life could have survived in the seas below the ice layer. These super-cold phases may have been caused by a periodic reduction in “greenhouse gases” (carbon dioxide and methane) in the atmosphere (such gases tend to warm the planet, so a reduction of these gases would cool the planet), combined with the fact that the sun was also dimmer in the past. Such extreme super-cold phases may have prevented more advanced forms of life to evolve during the first few billion years of the earth’s history.

There are different models for how the greenhouse gases got depleted enough to trigger such a snowball event. One model focuses on carbon dioxide and a reduction in atmospheric CO2 when plate tectonics happened to place much of the continental mass right in the tropical zone where accelerated weathering of silicate rocks would have ‘gobbled up’ available carbon dioxide. The loss of methane from the atmosphere is also modeled as a powerful trigger to snowball events, as the warming power of methane was lost when it combined with the oxygen that early photosynthesis was pumping into the atmosphere. Evidence has also been suggested that the later “snowball” events happened when the Earth passed through and interstellar cloud of dust in the Milky Way which reflected solar radiation away from the planet.

It is thought that once these “snowball earth” events got underway, they were somewhat self-perpetuating for a time, as the ice on the surface of the Earth would have reflected so much of the solar radiation back into space rather than absorb it into the land and oceans. Thus ice cover that may have begun in more northern latitudes would have been able to spread toward the equator. With the most extreme ice cover, scientists have deduced that the mean temperature of the Earth could have been about -74 degrees F, and as cold as -10 degrees even at the equator. Substantial glaciers would have developed, and tremendous glacial flows would have moved across the surface of the Earth, dragging up debris from the Earth’s crust and depositing it in glacial deposits of sediment, such as glacial moraines and tills. Evidence for the latest of these events is found on virtually every continent, but the signs of the earlier ones are more limited, since subsequent tectonic plate movement as well as weathering and erosion have ‘scrubbed’ large portions of the earth of such evidence. Such icy periods may well have eventually helped bring about their own ends, as the cold, icy climate would have slowed consumption of CO2 in the silicate weathering process, and, meanwhile, volcanic activity would have continued to pump more CO2 into the atmosphere.

 


HOW DO WE KNOW?


Massive deposits of tillite (gravels representing the outwash of melting glaciers) are known to have been produced around the world at the end of these “Snowball Earth” periods. Furthermore, various glacial deposits and striations are sometimes found in areas that evidently would have been in tropical latitudes during the time they were deposited, indicating profoundly climate over much of the Earth at that time.


WHY SHOULD I CARE?

It is likely that the harsh conditions of these Snowball Earths prevented life from becoming much more complex than single-celled organisms such as bacteria. With the end of the last Snowball Earth around 635 million years ago, these warmer conditions created the environment that ushered in the first known multicellular forms (plants and animals), and one of these animals would ultimately lead to us.




WEB RESOURCES

Very detailed information on the Snowball Earth Theory, evidence and arguments:
http://www.snowballearth.org/

An overview of the Snowball Earth Theory:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snowball_Earth

A timeline of the different periods of glaciations in the Earth’s history:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_glaciation


BOOKS

Macdougall, Doug. 2004. Frozen Earth: The Once and Future Story of Ice Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Walker, Gabrielle. 2003. Snowball Earth: The Story of the Great Global Catastrophe That Spawned
Life As We Know It. New York: Crown Publishers.

BOOKS (on the history of the earth)

Palmer, Douglas. 2003. Prehistoric Past Revealed: The Four Billion Year History of Life on Earth. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Palmer, Douglas. 2009. Evolution: The Story of Life. Berkeley: University of California Press.


VIDEO

How the Earth Was Made. 2007. History Channel.

Miracle Planet. Episode 2: Snowball Earth. 2006. Ambrose Video.

Earth: The Biography. The Story of our World. 2008. BBC Video.

Use the navigator to the right
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1

"From Nothing to Everything:
The Origins of the Universe,
the Solar System, Earth, and Life"
13.7 billion to 1 billion years ago

.

"From Nothing to Everything:
The Origins of the Universe, the Solar System, Earth, and Life"
13.7 billion to 1 billion years ago

View Time Scale >>

1

"The Big Bang"
The Origins of Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
13.7 billion years ago

"The Big Bang"
The Origins of Matter, Energy, Space, and Time
13.7 billion years ago

View Event >>

2

"Great Balls of Fire"
The First Stars
13.5 billion years ago

"Great Balls of Fire"
The First Stars
13.5 billion years ago

View Event >>

3

"Cosmic Alchemy"
The Creation of the Heavier Elements
13.4 billion years ago

"Cosmic Alchemy"
The Creation of the Heavier Elements
13.4 billion years ago

View Event >>

4

"Spinning Wheels"
The First Galaxies
13 billion years ago

"Spinning Wheels"
The First Galaxies
13 billion years ago

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5

"Here Comes the Sun"
The Birth of the Solar System, Including the Earth
4.6 billion years ago

"Here Comes the Sun"
The Birth of the Solar System, Including the Earth
4.6 billion years ago

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6

"Earth, Wind and Fire"
The First Rocks, Oceans and Atmosphere
4.5 billion years ago

"Earth, Wind and Fire"
The First Rocks, Oceans and Atmosphere
4.5 billion years ago

View Event >>

7

"Just Add Water"
The Origins of Life
3.8 billion years ago

"Just Add Water"
The Origins of Life
3.8 billion years ago

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8

"The Great Rust"
The Addition of Oxygen to the Atmosphere and Oceans
3 billion years ago

"The Great Rust"
The Addition of Oxygen to the Atmosphere and Oceans
3 billion years ago

View Event >>

9

"Snowball Earth"
The First Ice Ages
2.2 billion years ago

"Snowball Earth"
The First Ice Ages
2.2 billion years ago

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10

"Kingdom of Beasts"
The Rise of Animals
1 billion years ago

"Kingdom of Beasts"
The Rise of Animals
1 billion years ago

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2

"All Creatures Great and Small:
The Cambrian Explosion of
Animal Life and its Aftershocks"
1 billion to 100 million years ago

.

"Animal House:
The Cambrian Explosion of Animal Life and its Aftershocks"
1 billion to 100 million years ago

View Time Scale >>

11

"Movers and Shakers"
The First Definite Multicellular Animals
600 million years ago

"Movers and Shakers"
The First Definite Multicellular Animals
600 million years ago

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12

"AnimalHouse"
The Cambrian Explosion
543 million years ago

"AnimalHouse"
The Cambrian Explosion
543 million years ago

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13

"In Search of the Lost Chordate"
Finding the Ancestor of Vertebrates (and Ourselves)
530 million years ago

"In Search of the Lost Chordate"
Finding the Ancestor of Vertebrates (and Ourselves)
530 million years ago

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14

"Get a Backbone"
The Rise of the Vertebrates
525 million years ago

"Get a Backbone"
The Rise of the Vertebrates
525 million years ago

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15

"Get out of the Pool"
Early Amphibians
360 million years ago

"Get out of the Pool"
Early Amphibians
360 million years ago

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16

"Landlubbers"
The First Reptiles
315 million years ago

"Landlubbers"
The First Reptiles
315 million years ago

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17

"The Great Dying"
The Permian Extinction
250 million years ago

"The Great Dying"
The Permian Extinction
250 million years ago

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18

"Got Milk?"
Early Mammals and Dinosaurs
220 - 200 million years ago

"Got Milk?"
Early Mammals and Dinosaurs
220 - 200 million years ago

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19

"Up, Up, and Away"
The Earliest Birds
145 million years ago

"Up, Up, and Away"
The Earliest Birds
145 million years ago

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20

"Flower Power"
The First Flowering Plants
125 million years ago

"Flower Power"
The First Flowering Plants
125 million years ago

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3

"The Meek Inheritors: the Dinosaur Extinction
and the Rise of Mammals"
100 million to 10 million years ago

.

"The Meek Inheritors: the Dinosaur Extinction and the Rise of Mammals"
100 million to 10 million years ago

View Time Scale >>

21

"Cretaceous Park"
The Later Dinosaurs
95-65 million years ago

"Cretaceous Park"
The Later Dinosaurs
95-65 million years ago

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22

"One Extraterrestial Impact Can Ruin your Whole Day":
The Dinosaur Extinction
65 million years ago

"One Extraterrestial Impact Can Ruin your Whole Day":
The Dinosaur Extinction
65 million years ago

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23

"A Warm and Fuzzy Feeling"
The Mammalian Radiation
60 million years ago

"A Warm and Fuzzy Feeling"
The Mammalian Radiation
60 million years ago

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24

"Orogenous Zone"
The Rise of the Himalayas
55 million years ago

"Orogenous Zone"
The Rise of the Himalayas
55 million years ago

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25

"Of the First Order"
The Radiation of the Primates
55 million years ago

"Of the First Order"
The Radiation of the Primates
55 million years ago

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26

"The Land Down Under"
The Origin of Australia and its Animals
40 million years ago

"The Land Down Under"
The Origin of Australia and its Animals
40 million years ago

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27

"Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys"
The Rise of Monkeys
35 million years ago

"Hey, Hey, We're the Monkeys"
The Rise of Monkeys
35 million years ago

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28

"Grazing in the Grass"
The Spread of Grasslands and Grazing Animals
Beginning 25 million years ago

"Grazing in the Grass"
The Spread of Grasslands and Grazing Animals
Beginning 25 million years ago

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29

"The Sultans of Swing"
The Rise of Apes
23 million years ago

"The Sultans of Swing"
The Rise of Apes
23 million years ago

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30

"Father of Kong"
The Earliest Gorilla-like Forms
10 million years ago

"Father of Kong"
The Earliest Gorilla-like Forms
10 million years ago

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4

"Upstanding Apes:
The Rise of Hominids,
the Role of Rock,
and Food for Thought"
10 million to 1 million years ago

.

"Upstanding Apes:
The Rise of Hominids, the Role of Rock, and Food for Thought"
10 million to 1 million years ago

View Time Scale >>

31

"Branching Out"
The Last Shared Ancestor of Apes and Humans
7 million years ago

"Branching Out"
The Last Shared Ancestor of Apes and Humans
7 million years ago

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32

"Upstanding Apes"
The Earliest Bipedal Hominins
6 to 4 million years ago

"Upstanding Apes"
The Earliest Bipedal Hominins
6 to 4 million years ago

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33

"I am an Ape-Man"
The Earlier Australopithecine
4.0-2.5 million years ago

"I am an Ape-Man"
The Earlier Australopithecine
4.0-2.5 million years ago

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34

"The Big Chill"
The Beginning of Climatic Cooling
3 to 2 million years ago

"The Big Chill"
The Beginning of Climatic Cooling
3 to 2 million years ago

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35

"Our Poor Cousins"
The Later Australopithecine and their Extinction
2.6-1.0 million yeas ago

"Our Poor Cousins"
The Later Australopithecine and their Extinction
2.6-1.0 million yeas ago

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36

"The Role of Rock"
The Earliest Stone Tools
2.6 million years ago

"The Role of Rock"
The Earliest Stone Tools
2.6 million years ago

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37

"I'm Your Handy Man"
The Emergence of the Genus Homo and Brain Expansion
1.9-1.5 million years ago

"I'm Your Handy Man"
The Emergence of the Genus Homo and Brain Expansion
1.9-1.5 million years ago

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38

"Bigger and Badder"
The Emergence of Homo Erectus
1.8 million years ago

"Bigger and Badder"
The Emergence of Homo Erectus
1.8 million years ago

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39

"Out of Africa"
The Earliest Eurasians
1.8 million years ago

"Out of Africa"
The Earliest Eurasians
1.8 million years ago

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40

"Axes of Power"
The Invention of the Handaxe
1.76 million years ago

"Axes of Power"
The Invention of the Handaxe
1.76 million years ago

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5

"Becoming Human (or Just About):
The Rise of Homo Sapiens
and Our Neanderthal Cousins"
1 million to 100,000 years ago

.

"Becoming Human (or Just About):
The Rise of Homo Sapiens and Our Neanderthal Cousins"
1 million to 100,000 years ago

View Time Scale >>

41

"Big Brains, Big Faces"
Homo heidelbergensis and Probably Language
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

"Big Brains, Big Faces"
Homo heidelbergensis and Probably Language
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

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42

"Fearful Symmetry"
Later Refined Handaxes
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

"Fearful Symmetry"
Later Refined Handaxes
500,000 to 250,000 years ago

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43

"Bring Out Your Dead"
The Origins of Ritual Behavior
400,000 years ago

"Bring Out Your Dead"
The Origins of Ritual Behavior
400,000 years ago

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44

"Get the Point?"
The First Spears
400,000 years ago

"Get the Point?"
The First Spears
400,000 years ago

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45

"Chips Off the Old Block"
Prepared Core Technologies
300,000 years ago

"Chips Off the Old Block"
Prepared Core Technologies
300,000 years ago

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46

"Light My Fire"
The Controlled Use of Fire
300,000 years ago

"Light My Fire"
The Controlled Use of Fire
300,000 years ago

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47

"Almost Human"
Neandertals and Nearly Modern Humans
Beginning 250,000 years ago

"Almost Human"
Neandertals and Nearly Modern Humans
Beginning 250,000 years ago

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48

"Welcome to Middle Earth"
The Middle Palaeolithic
Beginning 250,000 years ago

"Welcome to Middle Earth"
The Middle Palaeolithic
Beginning 250,000 years ago

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49

"Seashells by the Seashore"
Intensive Exploitation of Seafoods
165,000 years ago

"Seashells by the Seashore"
Intensive Exploitation of Seafoods
165,000 years ago

View Event >>

50

"A Modern Stone Age Family"
The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
160,000 years ago

"A Modern Stone Age Family"
The Emergence of Homo Sapiens
160,000 years ago

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6

"The Creative Explosion:
The Rise of Symbolism, Language,
Religion, Art, and Music"
100,000 to 10,000 years ago

.

"The Creative Explosion:
The Rise of Symbolism, Language, Religion, Art, and Music"
100,000 to 10,000 years ago

View Time Scale >>

51

"Points of Conflict"
The Earliest Compound Tools & Points
100,000 years ago

"Points of Conflict"
The Earliest Compound Tools & Points
100,000 years ago

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52

"Rest in Peace"
The First Burials
90,000 years ago

"Rest in Peace"
The First Burials
90,000 years ago

View Event >>

53

"Bling-Bling"
The First Personal Decoration
80,000 years ago

"Bling-Bling"
The First Personal Decoration
80,000 years ago

View Event >>

54

"A Roof Over Your Head"
The First Architecture
42,000 years ago

"A Roof Over Your Head"
The First Architecture
42,000 years ago

View Event >>

55

"Blade Runners"
Upper Palaeolithic Blade Technologies
40,000 years ago

"Blade Runners"
Upper Palaeolithic Blade Technologies
40,000 years ago

View Event >>

56

"Brave New Worlds"
The Peopling of Australia and the Americas
40,000 to 12,000 years ago

"Brave New Worlds"
The Peopling of Australia and the Americas
40,000 to 12,000 years ago

View Event >>

57

"Express Yourself"
The First Representational Art & Music
35,000 years ago

"Express Yourself"
The First Representational Art & Music
35,000 years ago

View Event >>

58

"A Stitch in Time"
The First Needles and Sewing
25,000 years ago

"A Stitch in Time"
The First Needles and Sewing
25,000 years ago

View Event >>

59

"Bend Me, Shape Me"
The First Pottery
16,000 years ago

"Bend Me, Shape Me"
The First Pottery
16,000 years ago

View Event >>

60

"Draw Back Your Bow"
The First Bow and Arrow
11,000 years ago

"Draw Back Your Bow"
The First Bow and Arrow
11,000 years ago

View Event >>

7

"From Farm to the City:
The Neolithic and Urban Revolutions
and their Consequences"
10,000 to 1,000 years ago

.

"From Farm to the City:
The Neolithic and Urban Revolutions and their Consequences"
10,000 to 1,000 years ago

View Time Scale >>

61

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
The First Boats
10,000 years ago

"Row, Row, Row Your Boat"
The First Boats
10,000 years ago

View Event >>

62

"Down on the Farm"
The Neolithic Revolution
10,000 years ago

"Down on the Farm"
The Neolithic Revolution
10,000 years ago

View Event >>

63

"Heavy Metal"
The Origins of Metallurgy
8,000 years ago

"Heavy Metal"
The Origins of Metallurgy
8,000 years ago

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64

"Easy Riders"
The Development of Ships and Mounted Horse Transportation
6,000 to 5,000 years ago

"Easy Riders"
The Development of Ships and Mounted Horse Transportation
6,000 to 5,000 years ago

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65

"We Built This City"
Cities and Complex Societies
5,500 years ago

"We Built This City"
Cities and Complex Societies
5,500 years ago

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66

"Write This Down"
The Origins of Writing and Notation
5,000 years ago

"Write This Down"
The Origins of Writing and Notation
5,000 years ago

View Event >>

67

"Big Wheels Keep on Turnin"
Wheeled Vehicles
5,000 years ago

"Big Wheels Keep on Turnin"
Wheeled Vehicles
5,000 years ago

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68

"Iron Man"
The Iron Age
3,500 years ago (1500 BC)

"Iron Man"
The Iron Age
3,500 years ago (1500 BC)

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69

"Power to the People"
The First Democracy
2,560 years ago (550 BC)

"Power to the People"
The First Democracy
2,560 years ago (550 BC)

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70

"What's Your Plan?"
Large-scale Urban Planning
2,210 years ago (200 B.C.)

"What's Your Plan?"
Large-scale Urban Planning
2,210 years ago (200 B.C.)

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8

"Ages of Enlightenment:
From the Dark Ages of Superstition
to the Scientific Revolution"
1,000 to 100 years ago

.

"Ages of Enlightenment:
From the Dark Ages of Superstition to the Scientific Revolution"
1,000 to 100 years ago

View Time Scale >>

71

"Fire and Brimstone"
The Rise of Firearms
Beginning 1300 AD

"Fire and Brimstone"
The Rise of Firearms
Beginning 1300 AD

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72

"A Reawakening"
The Renaissance in the Western World
Beginning 1400 AD

"A Reawakening"
The Renaissance in the Western World
Beginning 1400 AD

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73

"Land Ho!"
Age of Exploration & Exploitation
Beginning 1400 AD

"Land Ho!"
Age of Exploration & Exploitation
Beginning 1400 AD

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74

"Hot off the Presses"
The Printing Press and Movable Type
Beginning 1455 AD

"Hot off the Presses"
The Printing Press and Movable Type
Beginning 1455 AD

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75

"From Superstition to Science"
The Scientific Revolution
Beginning 1543 AD

"From Superstition to Science"
The Scientific Revolution
Beginning 1543 AD

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76

"All Fired Up"
The Industrial Revolution
Beginning 1760 AD

"All Fired Up"
The Industrial Revolution
Beginning 1760 AD

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77

"Start Me Up"
Powered Modern Transport
Beginning 1802 AD

"Start Me Up"
Powered Modern Transport
Beginning 1802 AD

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78

"You Oughta Be in Pictures"
Photography and Cinematography
Beginning 1826 AD

"You Oughta Be in Pictures"
Photography and Cinematography
Beginning 1826 AD

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79

"From a Distance"
Long-Distance Communications
Beginning 1830 AD

"From a Distance"
Long-Distance Communications
Beginning 1830 AD

View Event >>

80

"Bright Lights, Big City"
Electric Light and Power
Beginning 1879 AD

"Bright Lights, Big City"
Electric Light and Power
Beginning 1879 AD

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9

"Modern Times: The Last Century,
Laying the Foundations of
the World We Live In"
100 to 10 years ago

.

"Modern Times: The Last Century, Laying the Foundations of the World We Live In"
100 to 10 years ago

View Time Scale >>

81

"It's All Relative"
Relativity and Quantum Theory
Late 1800s, early 1900s

"It's All Relative"
Relativity and Quantum Theory
Late 1800s, early 1900s

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82

"Rocket Man"
Rockets, Satellites, and Lunar Landings
Beginning 1926 AD

"Rocket Man"
Rockets, Satellites, and Lunar Landings
Beginning 1926 AD

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83

"You're On the Air"
Television
Beginning 1935 AD

"You're On the Air"
Television
Beginning 1935 AD

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84

"Bits and Bytes"
Computers, Transistors, Silicon Chips
Beginning 1937 AD

"Bits and Bytes"
Computers, Transistors, Silicon Chips
Beginning 1937 AD

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85

"When You're a Jet"
Jet Aircraft
1939 AD

"When You're a Jet"
Jet Aircraft
1939 AD

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86

"Miracle Drugs & Medical Devices"
Penicillin and Other Medical Advances
Beginning 1941 AD

"Miracle Drugs & Medical Devices"
Penicillin and Other Medical Advances
Beginning 1941 AD

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87

"The Genie Has Left the Bottle"
Dawn of the Atomic Age
Beginning 1942 AD

"The Genie Has Left the Bottle"
Dawn of the Atomic Age
Beginning 1942 AD

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88

"Cracking the Code"
DNA Structure & Genetic Engineering
Beginning 1953 AD

"Cracking the Code"
DNA Structure & Genetic Engineering
Beginning 1953 AD

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89

"Can You Hear Me Now?"
Advanced Telecommunications
Beginning 1973 AD

"Can You Hear Me Now?"
Advanced Telecommunications
Beginning 1973 AD

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90

"Surf's Up!"
The World Wide Web
Beginning 1989 AD

"Surf's Up!"
The World Wide Web
Beginning 1989 AD

View Event >>

10

"The Age of Connections:
The Past Decade of Innovations
and Their Implications"
The last 10 years

.

"The Age of Connections:
The Past Decade of Innovations and Their Implications"
The last 10 years

View Time Scale >>

91

"Where the Heck Are We?"
Widespread Use of GPS & Satellite Imaging

"Where the Heck Are We?"
Widespread Use of GPS & Satellite Imaging

View Event >>

92

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, that Make the Strain..."
Overpopulation & Climate Change

"Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes, that Make the Strain..."
Overpopulation & Climate Change

View Event >>

93

"Green Machines"
Alternative Energy

"Green Machines"
Alternative Energy

View Event >>

94

"Who Are You?"
The Human Genome Project

"Who Are You?"
The Human Genome Project

View Event >>

95

"Closer Encounters"
Recent Advances in Astronomy

"Closer Encounters"
Recent Advances in Astronomy

View Event >>

96

"Cellmates"
Stem Cell & Related Research

"Cellmates"
Stem Cell & Related Research

View Event >>

97

"Keep Searchin"
Widespread Use of Search Engines

"Keep Searchin"
Widespread Use of Search Engines

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98

"Say Hello to My Little Friends"
The Rise of Nanotechnology

"Say Hello to My Little Friends"
The Rise of Nanotechnology

View Event >>

99

"Here, There, and Everywhere..."
Instantaneous Communication & World-Wide Connections

"Here, There, and Everywhere..."
Instantaneous Communication & World-Wide Connections

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100

"Living for the Future"
The Idea of Sustainability

"Living for the Future"
The Idea of Sustainability

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