Neoproterozoic tillites overlain by limestones and dolostones (cap carbonates) have been interpreted as evidence of abrupt climate change from glaciers to tropical seas on the assumption that cap carbonates were marine. This assumption is here challenged by evidence for loess deposition of the Nuccaleena Formation of South Australia from granulometry (angular, randomly oriented, silt, modal diameter 7ϕ) and sedimentary structures (climbing-translatent cross-stratification, linear dunes). In addition, a variety of palaeosols in the Nuccaleena Formation have red clayey horizons, replacive micritization, expansion cracks, and thufur mounds, as well as low carbon and oxygen isotope values, high strontium isotope ratios, and geochemical evidence of leaching and clay formation. This cap carbonate has no definitively marine features, and is here interpreted as periglacial loess overlying the fluvioglacial–intertidal Elatina Formation, so it is not a record of abrupt global warming from snowball Earth. Other cap carbonates around the world differ in various ways, and may have formed in different depositional environments, but could profitably be reconsidered from the new perspective of the loess depositional model proposed here.
Tabular comparison of marine and non-marine interpretations of cap carbonates, petrographic textures and composition, and new isotopic and chemical analyses of Nuccaleena Formation are available at http:/www.geolsoc.org.uk/SUP18443.