Any period of extensive glaciation (in which icesheets and icecaps expand over the Earth) occurring in the Earth's history, but particularly that in the Pleistocene epoch (last 2 million years), immediately preceding historic times. On the North American continent, glaciers reached as far south as the Great Lakes, and an icesheet spread over northern Europe, leaving its remains as far south as Switzerland. In Britain ice reached as far south as a line from Bristol to Banbury to Exeter. There were several glacial advances separated by interglacial (warm) stages, during which the ice melted and temperatures were higher than today. We are currently in an interglacial phase of an ice age.
Other ice ages have occurred throughout geological time: there were four in the Precambrian era, one in the Ordovician, and one at the end of the Carboniferous and beginning of the Permian. The occurrence of an ice age is governed by a combination of factors (the Milankovitch hypothesis): (1) the Earth's change of attitude in relation to the Sun – that is, the way it tilts in a 41,000-year cycle and at the same time wobbles on its axis in a 22,000-year cycle, making the time of its closest approach to the Sun come at different seasons; and (2) the 92,000-year cycle of eccentricity in its orbit around the Sun, changing it from an elliptical to a near circular orbit, the severest period of an ice age coinciding with the approach to circularity. There is a possibility that the Pleistocene ice age is not yet over. It may reach another maximum in another 60,000 years.
The theory of ice ages was first proposed in the 19th century by, among others, Swiss civil engineer Ignace Venetz 1821 and Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz 1837. (Before, most geologists had believed that the rocks and sediment they left behind were caused by the biblical flood.) The term ‘ice age’ was first used by botanist Karl Schimper in 1837.
Cracking the Ice Age
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A period in the earth's history when ice spread towards the equator with a general lowering of temperatures. The most recent of these was the ...
Synonyms Onset of the Pleistocene Ice Age Era and its rhythmic glaciations Definition Theory on the development and course of the Quaternary ice age
Abstract The astronomical theory of paleoclimates aims to explain the climatic variations occurring with quasi-periodicities lying between tens a