'Snowball Earth' may have helped give rise to Earth's first animals

A group of researchers led by scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have shed light on the mystery of how animals first appeared on Earth, a recent study published in the journalNaturereports.
By Adam Widmer | Aug 22, 2017
A group of researchers led by scientists at The Australian National University (ANU) have shed light on the mystery of how animals first appeared on Earth, a recent study published in the journalNaturereports.

The team began their researcher after uncovering ancient sedimentary rocks in central Australia. While researchers had previously been aware of such formations, new technology helped them look into the stones in a way that was not possible in the past. After looking into the rocks, scientists crushed them into powder and tookmolecules from the long-dead organisms inside them. This analysis revealed algae first began to rise some 650 million years ago.

That finding is important because, not only does it give a more concrete timeline of when multi-celled organisms first appeared on Earth, but it also sheds light on one of the most important ecological revolutions in the history of the world. In fact, without that event modern animals -- including humans -- would not exist today.

"Before all of this happened, there was a dramatic event 50 million years earlier called Snowball Earth," said lead author Jochen Brocks, an associate professor at the Australian National University, according to Phys.org. "The Earth was frozen over for 50 million years. Huge glaciers ground entire mountain ranges to powder that released nutrients, and when the snow melted during an extreme global heating event rivers washed torrents of nutrients into the ocean."

Those new conditions perfectly allowed algae to spread across the globe. That then created the burst of energy needed for more complex organisms to thrive. It was also the first time the oceans were dominated by life other than bacteria.

This discovery is the first evidence that Snowball Earth was directly evolved in the evolution of large and complex life. Researchers hope it will lead to further research into the origins of animals and spur other studies on one of the world's oldest mysteries.

"The reason why [the timeline] is so exciting is it is just before animals appeared and also exciting because it happened after the biggest climatic catastrophe in Earth's history," added Brocks, according to ABC Online.

The findings will be presented this week at the Goldschmidt Conference in Paris, France.

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