A 3-day visit by Professor Paul Hoffman with a short-course on Snowball Earth

Paul Hoffman in Flinders, South Australia (by T. Gernon)
Paul Hoffman in Flinders, South Australia (by T. Gernon)

By Dr Thomas Gernon – Associate Professor in Earth Science (Thomas.Gernon@noc.soton.ac.uk)


Last month, Ocean and Earth Science welcomed Professor Paul Hoffman from Harvard University for a three-day visit. Paul is famous for developing the theory of ‘Snowball Earth’, when in the late Proterozoic (~700 Ma) the oceans froze and our whole planet was covered in ice. The opportunity arose last summer when Dr Tom Gernon (a newcomer to the debate!) accompanied Paul to the Australian Outback to study spectacular Cryogenian successions of the Flinders Ranges and Arkaroola. On Monday 20th March, Paul presented a short course on the ‘Snowball Earth’, in association with Southampton Marine and Maritime Institute, the University of Southampton International Office, and the Friday Seminar Series. Forty scientists from across OES, the NOC and wider University attended the daylong course, which focussed on the geology, climate dynamics, geochemistry and geobiology of Snowball Earth. The attendees were delighted to gain a first hand insight from a leading spokesman and authority on Neoproterozoic geology, with over 20 years of field experience on six continents. Paul synthesized the current state of knowledge in the above areas, and highlighted outstanding problems—which promoted much discussion during and after the sessions. On Tuesday 21st March, Paul presented a summary lecture to over 150 people, including a highly stimulated undergraduate audience. Those in attendance included enrolees in The Evolving Earth, who had just learned about Snowball Earth events in the previous lectures! The lectures were all recorded via Panopto and can be used and enjoyed by current and future cohorts alike.  Overall the trip was a great success and Paul found it “enjoyable and highly stimulating”. The visit will stimulate further collaborations with Paul and his extended network of friends and colleagues working on the Neoproterozoic. We thank the SMMI, International Office and Friday Seminar Series for supporting this event.




Outcrops in Arkaroola, South Australia.
Cryogenian outcrops in Arkaroola, South Australia (credit: Thomas Gernon)