Graph Courtesy of Utah Geological Survey

The Earth started to cool about 50 million years ago. Then about 2.6 million years ago Earth entered another "ice age" - a cold period when ice sheets advanced and retreated in North America and other parts of the world. The graph shows the most recent 4 advances - called "glaciations" or "glacial periods" (labelled on graph). The last glacial period, popularly known as "the Ice Age", was the most recent glacial period within the Pleistocene epoch. Scientists consider this "ice age" to be merely the latest glacial event in a much larger ice age, one that dates back 2.6 million years and has seen multiple glacial events. The formation of the Glacial Lake Great Falls and the Sonkin Sag happened in the near the end of the most recent glacial period (~13,000 years ago), and may have happened during previous glaciations as well.

Confusing! . . .
The use of the term "ice age" is confusing because experts use the term differently than the media/pop culture does. Technically we have been in an "ice age" for 2.6 million years, and we are now in an "interglacial period". However, the term "ice age" as it is used in the media/pop culture, refers to those periods when the ice sheets advanced. By that definition (glacial = ice age), the graph shows that there have been 4 "ice ages" in the past 450,000 years. On the other hand a scientist would say there has been 4 "glacial periods" (or "glaciations") in the past 450,000 years . . . and many more before that. BACK

Web Site Created by Rod Benson
Earth Science Teacher at Helena High School

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