The Neoproterozoic was characterized by an extreme glaciation, but until now there has been no consensus as to whether it was a complete glaciation (snowball Earth) or a less severe glaciation (slushball Earth). We performed sensitivity experiments with an Earth model of intermediate complexity for this period of dramatic global cooling. Our simulations focus on the climate response on a cool versus a cold ocean, on a desert versus a glacier land surface, and on a lower versus a higher CO2 concentration. All Neoproterozoic model experiments represent much colder conditions than today and widespread glaciation. In case of an initial forcing representing a snowball Earth, the model maintains its complete glaciation, and temperatures are as low as −45 °C in equatorial latitudes. At the poles, the snowball experiments demonstrate annual average temperatures of <–70 °C. If the initial model forcing is more moderate (slush-ball Earth), polar temperatures are <–50 °C, but temperatures in low latitudes stay well above the freezing point of water, and therefore ice-free ocean areas remain. Based on our simulations, we are able to observe that global climate reacts less sensitively to reductions of atmospheric CO2 during times with increased glaciations. Our results suggest that the development of glaciers on land contributes significantly to intense ice coverage of the oceans. Because simulations initialized without complete ice cover do not reach the global glaciation condition, we conclude that our simulations support the rather moderate scenario of a slushball Earth than the extreme snowball Earth hypothesis. The experimental design and the model might, however, limit the interpretation of our results.

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