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Cryogenian Period
850–635 million years ago
Rodinia reconstruction.jpg

Events of the Cryogenian Period
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First sponge-like animal?[2]
Kaigas glaciation?[3]

The Cryogenian (from Greek cryos "cold" and genesis "birth") is a geologic period that lasted from 850 to 635 million years ago. It forms the second geologic period of the Neoproterozoic Era, preceded by the Tonian Period and followed by the Ediacaran.

The Sturtian and Marinoan glaciations,[5] which are the greatest ice ages known to have occurred on Earth, occurred during this period. These events are the subject of much scientific controversy.

The main debate contests whether these glaciations covered the entire planet (the so-called 'Snowball Earth') or if a band of open sea survived near the equator (termed 'slushball Earth').


The Cryogenian period was ratified in 1990 by the International Commission on Stratigraphy.[6] In contrast to most other time periods the beginning of the Cryogenian is not linked to a globally observable and documented event. Instead the base of the period is defined by a fixed rock age, that is set at 850 million years.[7]

This is problematic as estimates of rock ages are variable and are subject to laboratory error. For instance, the Cambrian Period is marked not by rock younger than a given age (541.0 ± 1.0 million years), but by the appearance of the worldwide Treptichnus pedum diagnostic trace fossil assemblage. This means that rocks can be recognized as Cambrian when examined in the field and do not require extensive testing to be performed in a lab to find a date.

Currently, there is no consensus on what global event is a suitable candidate to mark the start of the Cryogenian Period, but a global glaciation would be a likely candidate.[7]


The name of the geologic period refers to the very cold global climate of the Cryogenian: characteristic glacial deposits indicate that Earth suffered the most severe ice ages in its history during this period (Sturtian and Marinoan).

Glaciers extended and contracted in a series of rhythmic pulses, possibly reaching as far as the equator.[8]

The Cryogenian is generally considered to be divisible into at least two major worldwide glaciations. The Sturtian glaciation persisted from 750 to 700 million years ago, and the Marinoan glaciation which ended approximately 635 Ma, at the end of the Cryogenian.[9] The deposits of glacial tillite also occur in places that were at low latitudes during the Cryogenian, a phenomenon which led to the hypothesis of deeply frozen planetary oceans called "Snowball Earth".[10]


At the start of the Cryogenian, the supercontinent Rodinia had fully assembled. Starting around 750 Ma, the cratons that made up Rodinia started to rift apart. The superocean Mirovia began to close while the superocean Panthalassa began to form. The cratons (possibly) later assembled into another supercontinent called Pannotia, in the Ediacaran.

Cryogenian biota and fossils[edit]

Fossils of testate amoeba (or Arcellinida) first appear during the Cryogenian period.[11] During the Cryogenian period, the oldest known fossils of sponges (and therefore animals) make an appearance.[12][13][14] The issue of whether or not life was impacted by this event has not been settled, for example Porter (2000) suggests that new groups of life evolved during this period, including the red algae and green algae, stramenopiles, ciliates, dinoflagellates, and testate amoeba, which have already been mentioned above.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

  • BBC Horizon Snowball Earth (2001) [1]
  • The Time Travellers Guide To Australia (Australia, 2012).
  • BBC/CBC/NHK "Miracle Planet : Snowball Earth" (2010s) episode [2]


  1. ^ a b Arnaud, E.; Halverson, G. P.; Shields-Zhou, G. (30 November 2011). "Chapter 1 The geological record of Neoproterozoic ice ages". Geological Society, London, Memoirs 36 (1): 1–16. doi:10.1144/M36.1. 
  2. ^ Brain, C. K., Prave, A. R., Hoffmann, K. H., Fallik, A. E., Herd D. A., Sturrock, C., Young, I., Condon, D. J., Allison, S. G. (2012). "The first animals: ca. 760-million-year-old sponge-like fossils from Namibia". S. Afr. J. Sci. 108 (8): 1–8. doi:10.4102/sajs.v108i1/2.658. 
  3. ^ Macdonald, F. A.; Schmitz, M. D.; Crowley, J. L.; Roots, C. F.; Jones, D. S.; Maloof, A. C.; Strauss, J. V.; Cohen, P. A.; Johnston, D. T.; Schrag, D. P. (4 March 2010). "Calibrating the Cryogenian". Science 327 (5970): 1241–1243. doi:10.1126/science.1183325. PMID 20203045.  (Duration and magnitude are enigmatic)
  4. ^ "Discovery of possible earliest animal life pushes back fossil record". Retrieved 7 December 2012. 
  5. ^ These events were formerly considered together as the Varanger glaciations, from their first detection in Norway's Varanger Peninsula.
  6. ^ Plumb, Kenneth A. (1991). "New Precambrian time scale". Episode. 2 14: 134–140. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  7. ^ a b "GSSP Table - Precambrian". Geologic Timescale Foundation. Retrieved 7 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Dave Lawrence (2003). "Microfossil lineages support sloshy snowball Earth". Geotimes. 
  9. ^ Shields, G. A. (2008). "Palaeoclimate: Marinoan meltdown". Nature Geoscience 1 (6): 351–353. doi:10.1038/ngeo214.  edit
  10. ^ Hoffman, P.F. 2001. Snowball Earth theory
  11. ^ Porter, S.A., and Knoll, A.H. (2000). "Testate amoeba in the Neoproterozoic Era: evidence from vase-shaped microfossils in the Chuar Group, Grand Canyon". Paleobiology 26 (3): 360–385. doi:10.1666/0094-8373(2000)026<0360:TAITNE>2.0.CO;2. ISSN 0094-8373. 
  12. ^ Love; Grosjean, Emmanuelle; Stalvies, Charlotte; Fike, David A.; Grotzinger, John P.; Bradley, Alexander S.; Kelly, Amy E.; Bhatia, Maya; Meredith, William et al. (2009). "Fossil steroids record the appearance of Demospongiae during the Cryogenian period". Nature 457 (7230): 718–721. Bibcode:2009Natur.457..718L. doi:10.1038/nature07673. PMID 19194449. 
  13. ^ Maloof, Adam C.; Rose, Catherine V.; Beach, Robert; Samuels, Bradley M.; Calmet, Claire C.; Erwin, Douglas H.; Poirier, Gerald R.; Yao, Nan; Simons, Frederik J. (17 August 2010). "Possible animal-body fossils in pre-Marinoan limestones from South Australia". Nature Geoscience 3 (9): 653–659. Bibcode:2010NatGe...3..653M. doi:10.1038/ngeo934. 
  14. ^ "Discovery of possible earliest animal life pushes back fossil record". 2010-08-17. 
  15. ^

Further reading[edit]

Preceded by Archean Eon Proterozoic Eon Followed by Phanerozoic Eon
Paleoproterozoic Era Mesoproterozoic Era Neoproterozoic Era
Siderian Rhyacian Orosirian Statherian Calymmian Ectasian Stenian Tonian Cryogenian Ediacaran