Dr. Mathew Domeier

Centre for Planetary Habitability
University of Oslo

The enduring Ediacaran paleomagnetic enigma

The Ediacaran Period was an interval of significant global transformation, marked by major changes in the biosphere, hydrosphere, atmosphere, and possibly the deep Earth. A better understanding of this interval is thus important to an understanding of the diversification of complex life, the history of long-term climatic change and the evolution of global geochemical cycles. Increasingly detailed temporal records are being acquired from Ediacaran rocks to investigate these changes in time, but we still lack a robust paleogeographic framework to study them in space. Paleomagnetic data—which are used to quantitatively determine the ancient position of continents—appear unusually complex and often contradictory throughout this period. The nature of these complex data remains elusive and four distinct hypotheses have been forwarded to explain them: 1) the tectonic plates were moving especially fast, 2) many of the paleomagnetic data have been corrupted in some as-yet unrecognized way, 3) the solid Earth underwent rapid bouts of true polar wander, or 4) the magnetic field was behaving abnormally. Each of these hypotheses have far-reaching implications. Hypotheses 1, 3 and 4 reflect processes which differ dramatically from their present-day counterparts and defy prevailing paradigms of secular change, whereas hypothesis 2 poses significant challenges to the interpretation of paleomagnetism and its paleogeographic derivatives in deep time. Significant advances will be garnered through resolution of this enigma, but its endurance reflects its intricacy, and any solution is going to require a collective effort. This presentation will probe these multiple working hypotheses, elaborate how they may be further tested and discuss the implications of their possible validation.

About Mathew Domeier

Dr. Mathew Domeier is a geophysicist with a focus on problems in global paleogeography and the application of paleomagnetism to solve tectonic problems. He is currently an Associate Professor at the University of Oslo, Norway, where he has worked in the Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) since its inception in 2013, and now the Centre for Planetary Habitability (PHAB), which opened in 2023.

Mathew’s paleomagnetic research is global in scope and spans the last 600 million years. His recent work has focused on the synthesis of paleomagnetic and geologic data to construct global, plate tectonic models. His ongoing research is working to push these models further backward in time, and to apply them to understand how the history of tectonic plate motion has influenced other Earth systems.