Are basal Ediacaran (635 Ma) post-glacial "cap dolostones" diachronous?

Paul F. Hoffman, Galen P. Halverson, Eugene W. Domack, Jonathan M. Husson, John Andrew Higgins, Daniel P. Schrag

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

213 Scopus citations


A layer of shallow-water dolostone ("cap dolostone") with idiosyncratic sedimentary structures was deposited across continental margins world-wide in the aftermath of the terminal Cryogenian snowball Earth. The dolostone has a global average thickness of 18.5 m and is interpreted stratigraphically in different ways in the current literature: as diachronous (top and bottom) and tracking glacioeustatic flooding, as semi-diachronous (bottom diachronous, top isochronous) and outlasting the flood, or as isochronous (top and bottom) and recording ocean-wide changes over time subsequent to deglaciation. Each interpretation carries a different implication for the timescale of cap dolostones and their isotopic signatures, and therefore for their origin. In northern Namibia, we studied the Keilberg cap dolostone (635 Ma) across the Otavi carbonate bank and down a contiguous submarine paleoslope to estimated depths of ∼ 0.5 km. We find giant wave ripples and other wave-generated structures in all areas, including the lower slope, pointing to a base-level change of large amplitude. No other formation in the carbonate succession contains wave-generated bedforms on the lower slope. Carbon isotope records from the bank are similar in shape and absolute value, irrespective of thickness. Slope records are also similar to one another, but different in shape and value from those on the bank. If the cap is isochronous, lower-slope waters were enriched in 13C by 2-3‰ compared with the bank, which seems improbable. If diachronous, the lower slope, upper slope and bank records collectively describe a sigmoidal δ13C curve over time with a net decline of 4.4‰. In addition, a lateral gradient of 1.0‰/100 km existed from the inner to outer bank. If the flooding was rapid (< 10 kyr), as suggested by ice-melting models, the δ13C change may reflect strong surface warming, methane release, and kinetic isotope effects associated with rapid carbonate production. If the transgression was prolonged (> 100 kyr), as implied by actualistic interpretation of paleomagnetic reversals in this and other cap dolostones, the δ13C change could record Rayleigh distillation associated with the drawdown of a large atmospheric CO2 reservoir, built up during the preceding snowball glaciation. Either way, the sedimentology and isotopes support the diachronous interpretation, and are inconsistent with the semi-diachronous and isochronous models. The base-level rise of ∼ 0.5 km implies a glacioeustatic origin, meaning that cap dolostone sedimentation was synchronous with land ice melting. This leaves the actualistic interpretation of reversal frequency and speed in cap dolostones in conflict with ice-melting models.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-131
Number of pages18
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 15 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Ediacaran
  • Neoproterozoic
  • cap carbonate
  • cap dolostone
  • carbon isotopes
  • snowball Earth


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