Ice Age History

The world has witnessed multiple ice ages or glacial ages across the eras. During this time, a significant part of the continents remained covered with ice. This large-scale deposition of ice and glaciation across the continents is termed an ice age. This article will discuss what an ice age looks like and when our planet witnessed ice ages in the previous eras.


What is an Ice Age?

The drastic reduction in temperature in the earth’s atmosphere led to the formation of ice and glaciers across the continents. The major part of the continents remained under the ice for millions of years, affecting the flora and fauna of the earth’s ecosystem. Many new species evolved, whereas many got eradicated. The advent of the ice age always marked the development and progress of new species.


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The Prime Characteristics of the Ice Age are:

  1. Formation of heavy layers of ice, covering the major part of the landmass on earth’s crust.

  2. Continental glaciations resulting in the freezing of rivers and freshwater bodies.

  3. Drastic reshaping of the continental shapes due to shrinking of mass and expansion of water.

  4. Ice ages affected the tectonic movements of the continental and oceanic plates resulting in the formation of new landmasses and continents.

  5. Iceseemed to exist for millions of years in prime areas are polar caps, alpine glaciers, and a major portion of the continental landmass.

  6. It is also called glaciations, stadials, etc.


Ice Ages on Earth

Now that we know what is an Ice Age let us find out the different ice ages our earth has witnessed since its formation. As per the archaeologists, the first-ever ice age recorded was during the Precambrian Time. It occurred 570 million years back. The structure of the earth’s crust and other fossilized evidence confirm that this is the first ice age on earth. The most recent ice age happened in the Pleistocene Epoch (ranging from 2.6 million years to 11,700 years).


It is hard to believe, but our earth was majorly covered with ice just several thousand years back. This Ice Age period is significantly important for the evolution of warm-blooded animals such as mammals and humans. The earth has also witnessed smaller ice ages that are not significant when it comes to the span. As per the archeologists and historians, a small ice age progressed but vanished within three centuries. The Little Ice Age commenced in the 16th century and ended in the 19th century. Its development reached its epitome in the 1750s when the glaciers took the biggest shape. It has been found that the glaciers during the 1750s brought a bigger shape than when the latest ice age ended 11,700 years back.


Causes of an Ice Age

1. Atmospheric Changes

When the greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere are reduced considerably, the earth’s surface is unable to hold the heat absorbed from the sunrays. It resulted in a drastic reduction of the temperature below the freezing point.

2. Continental Positions

As per the Ice Age history, the continental positions of the earth’s landmass can block or increase the warm water flow from the equatorial region to the polar caps. On the other hand, reduced absorption of sunrays at the polar region can result in glaciations.

3. Oceanic Current Fluctuations

The position of the continents due to tectonic plate movements resulted in climatic changes and oceanic current fluctuations. The hindrance in exchanging water between Pacific Oceans and the tropical Atlantic caused glaciations in the North American landmass.

4. Tibetan Plateau

It is considered the roof of the world. Due to tectonic movements, the height of this plateau increased, passing the snow line and leading to the formation of ice across the landmass. This is what is considered the prime reason that triggered the Pleistocene Ice Age.


These factors decided the length of an Ice Age period. The last ice age ended 8000 years ago, but its effect can still be seen. Our earth is currently in a Quarternary Glaciation Stage. It is an intermittent stage between a glacial age and a greenhouse period. It is the aftereffect of the Ice Age real life witnessed. The remaining polar ice caps and the glaciers feeding our snow-fed rivers, and the bearable temperature explain the features of this period.


Effects of Glacial Ages

Ice Age all parts that occurred in the earth’s history can only be explained by the evidence gathered by archeologists across the world. The effect of glaciations can also be calculated from the latest glacial age that we survived.


The weight of the ice sheets can change the formation of the earth’s crust resulting in various topographical features. The more minor topographical features apart from drifting of continental mass such as the formation of lakes, rivers, moraines, etc., also resulted from this.

FAQs on Ice Age

1. What are the drastic changes of an ice age?

Ans: When an ice age is induced on the earth’s surface, there is a huge geographical change on the earth’s crust. The temperature difference caused significant changes in the oceanic currents. The flora and fauna also get affected by the commencement of an ice age. Species that could quickly adapt to such changes survived, and the rest got eliminated. Due to the last ice age, the reptilian dominance on earth ended, resulting in the dominance of human beings.

2. Will another ice age emerge?

Ans: Currently, our earth is going through a greenhouse era where all the glacial and polar ice is melting. The greenhouses ages and ice ages occur alternatively. It means that currently, the average temperature on the earth’s surface is increasing every year. The rate is higher than normal due to manmade pollution. Another ice age may commence if the greenhouse gases reduce in concentration considerably.

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