The Phanerozoic's longest-lived and most widespread glaciation, the late Paleozoic ice age, is undergoing a resurgence in interest. Long-held models of the timing, duration, and magnitude of glaciation are being reevaluated due to emerging evidence from former high latitudes, evidence that the late Paleozoic ice age was punctuated by long-lived glacial minima or possibly ice-free times.
The history of the late Paleozoic ice age is archived within the biostratigraphically well-constrained, carbonate-dominated succession of Arrow Canyon, Nevada, United States. In this paleo-tropical succession, the distribution of lithofacies, flooding surfaces, and subaerial exposure horizons and their stacking into meter-scale cycles record a detailed climate history. The onset of this phase of glaciation during the middle Mississippian was followed by a dynamic evolution of glacioeustasy through the late Mississippian to late Pennsylvanian. Moderate- to high-amplitude glacioeustasy was likely interrupted by an earliest Pennsylvanian short-lived glacial minimum, but otherwise appears to have persisted through the middle Pennsylvanian.
Upper Pennsylvanian strata record low- to moderate-amplitude relative sea-level changes, suggesting a long-lived interval of diminished ice volume. This proposed glacial minimum is coincident with a notable minimum in glaciogenic sedimentation near the former southern pole, aridification across paleo-tropical Pangea, and significant floral and faunal turnover, suggesting a link between tropical environmental change and high-latitude glaciation. These conclusions, however, are at odds with those traditionally inferred from Euramerican cyclothems, i.e., persistent high-amplitude glacioeustasy driven by a single, large ice sheet. Rather, the Arrow Canyon archive of varying depositional facies and cycle stacking patterns records major changes in the magnitude of short-term glacioeustasy. This finding contributes to recent and growing near- and far-field evidence for a more dynamic glaciation history than previously inferred from the classic Euramerican cyclothems.