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Ice Ages

Our ancestors lived through the Ice Ages, hunting the animals that grazed on the tundra, the tree-less lands that lay close to...Read More >>Our ancestors lived through the Ice Ages, hunting the animals that grazed on the tundra, the tree-less lands that lay close to the southern edge of the ice sheet.Ice ages have occurred frequently throughout the Earth’s history. They are times when the climate cools down so much that ice caps form at the poles and spread out. The most recent, the Pleistocene Ice Ages, began around 2.6 million years ago. Since then, on at least four occasions, great ice sheets spread southwards and obliterated much of northern Europe, North America and Asia for tens of thousands of years. These events are known as glacial periods. In between, there were warmer periods called interglacials. The last glacial period ended only about 11,500 years ago. Today’s climates are cooler than many past eras, so it is likely that we are living through an interglacial. A fifth glacial period may one day grip the world.


A late Pleistocene landscape in northern Spain, featuring woolly mammoths, horses, a woolly rhinoceros and cave lions—all mammals...Read More >>A late Pleistocene landscape in northern Spain, featuring woolly mammoths, horses, a woolly rhinoceros and cave lions—all mammals adapted to living in the tundra during the Ice Ages.
The ice cap in Greenland today. The polar ice caps today are relatively small, whereas during the last glacial period, ice...Read More >>The ice cap in Greenland today. The polar ice caps today are relatively small, whereas during the last glacial period, ice covered much of Europe, Asia and North America.

Possible causes

Various causes have been suggested for why ice ages occur. It may be that the Earth’s angle of rotation changes slightly, tipping the poles further away from the sun’s rays. Other possible causes include changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, the position of the continents or the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
 

The Pleistocene Ice Ages were not the only ones in the history of the Earth. A major Ice Age occurred at the end of the Carboniferous Period, about 305–300 million years ago.

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