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Late Precambrian glacial climate and the Earth's obliquity

  • G. E. Williams (a1)

Late Precambrian (∼ 750±200 Ma) glaciogenic sequences exhibit substantial evidence for marked climatic inequability of seasonal and longer periodicity (10° to ∼ 106 yrs): (1) tillites are closely associated with dolomites, limestones and evaporites apparently of warm-water origin; (2) tillites occur with red beds and iron-formations whose iron probably was derived ultimately from lateritic weathering; (3) glacial dropstones occur locally within carbonates and iron-formations; (4) laminae, interpreted as varves by many workers, are common in argillites, carbonates and iron-formations; and (5) permafrost structures attributable to repeated seasonal changes of temperature are locally abundant. Such climatic, particularly seasonal inequability apparently conflicts however with the probable low (≲30°) palaeolatitudes of deposition of numerous late Precambrian glaciogenic sequences.

The contradictions presented by such sequences may be resolved by postulating a considerably increased obliquity of the ecliptic (ε) in late Precambrian time. Substantial increase in e would: (1) greatly amplify global seasonality; (2) weaken climatic zonation, thus allowing warm-water sedimentation and lateritic weathering over wide latitudes; and (3) increase the ratio of radiation received annually at either pole to that received at the equator, so when 54° < ε < 126° low and middle latitudes (≤ 43°) would be glaciated in preference to the poles. Ice sheets and permafrost thus can be envisaged principally in low and middle latitudes with contiguous warm-water and iron-rich facies under a markedly seasonal climate. The concept of secular change of e is supported by other geological evidence.

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