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What is an Ice Age?

Geography | 7-14 yrs | Interactive

Our planet Earth has experienced several periods of warming and cooling episodes throughout its history. The Ice Age is a period in the Earth’s history that began around 70,000 years ago. As the name suggests, it was a period when the climate was way colder than it is today. In fact, it was the time when most of the Earth’s surface was buried under sheets of ice.

Causes of Ice Age

The geologists believe that the ice age was not caused by one event but a series of factors resulted in the cooling of the Earth, including the planet’s position to the sun, its tilt, and certain changes in the Earth’s atmosphere. Small changes over a very long period of time resulted in such a dramatic change in the climate.

Discovery of the Ice Age

Swiss scientist Louis Aggasiz was one of the first few scientists to study the evidence of the Ice Age. In the mid 1800’s, he told the other scientists that the boulders they saw randomly placed on the Earth’s surface out of nowhere had been left by glaciers. No one believed him and discarded his theory, calling it foolish. They were of the opinion that those boulders were placed there by the Noah’s flood or witchcraft.

Life during the Ice Age

During the Ice Age, the Earth’s surface was completely frozen. This type of barren and cold biome is known as the tundra. Only a few plants, including the evergreen trees, could grow in the frozen soil. The main occupation of men during that period was hunting. Every part of the hunted animals was used for something or the other. Their flesh was used for eating, skins were used as clothing, blankets and shelters and bones were used for making tools and weapons.

Some of the important animals of those times were the woolly mammoth, woolly rhinos, bears, and reindeer. People used to make the pictures of these animals on the walls of their caves. Scientists have also found the frozen fossils of these animals.

Are we living in an Ice Age?

Yes, you would be surprised to learn that we are currently living in an ice age called the Quaternary Ice Age. The Earth is in a warmer stage of the ice age known as the interglacial period. In other words, an interglacial period is a warm period between the cold periods of the Earth where the glaciers are receding.

How many Ice Ages has the Earth experienced?

According to the scientists, the Earth has experienced five major ice ages which are as follows-

  • Huronian – The Huronian Ice Age lasted from about 2400 to 2100 million years ago and was one of the longest ice ages. Scientists believe that the lack of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere caused it.
  • Cryogenian – The Cryogenian Ice Age lasted from 850 to 635 million years ago. Scientists sometimes call the Earth during this phase as the ‘Snowball Earth’ also.
  • Andean-Saharan – The Andean-Saharan Ice Age took place between 460 to 430 million years ago.
  • Karoo – The Karoo Ice Age lasted around 100 million years between 360 to 260 million years ago. It is named after glacial tills in Karoo, South Africa.
  • Quaternary – The most recent ice age is the Quaternary Ice Age. It started about 2.5 million years ago and is still going on.

3 Interesting fun facts about Ice Age

  1. Ice Age is not an event that happens quickly. It is actually a very long-term natural phenomenon that lasts for several million years.
  2. The animals that lived during the Ice Ages were generally quite large and fully covered with fur. Scientists also call them ‘Megafauna’.
  3. The famous Disney movie ‘Ice Age’ is based on this period.
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