Between ~750 to 635 million years ago, during the Neoproterozoic era, the Earth experienced at least two significant, possibly global, glaciations, termed “Snowball Earth”. While many studies have focused on the dynamics and the role of the atmosphere and ice flow over the ocean in these events, only a few have investigated the related associated ocean circulation, and no study has examined the ocean circulation under a thick (~1 km deep) sea-ice cover, driven by geothermal heat flux. Here, we use a thick sea-ice flow model coupled to an ocean general circulation model to study the ocean circulation under Snowball Earth conditions. We first investigate the ocean circulation under simplified zonal symmetry assumption and find (i) strong equatorial zonal jets, and (ii) a strong meridional overturning cell, limited to an area very close to the equator. We derive an analytic approximation for the latitude-depth ocean dynamics and find that the extent of the meridional overturning circulation cell only depends on the horizontal eddy viscosity and β (the change of the Coriolis parameter with latitude). The analytic approximation closely reproduces the numerical results. Three-dimensional ocean simulations, with reconstructed Neoproterozoic continents configuration, confirm the zonally symmetric dynamics, and show additional boundary currents and strong upwelling and downwelling near the continents.
Helmholtz Research Programs > PACES II (2014-2018) > TOPIC 3: The earth system from a polar perspective > WP 3.3: From process understanding to enabling climate prediction