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Timeline of glaciation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Climate history over the past 500 million years, with the last three major ice ages indicated, Andean-Saharan (450 Ma), Karoo (300 Ma) and Late Cenozoic. A less severe cold period or ice age is shown during the Jurassic-Cretaceous (150 Ma).

There have been five or six major ice ages in the history of Earth over the past 3 billion years. The Late Cenozoic Ice Age began 34 million years ago, its latest phase being the Quaternary glaciation, in progress since 2.58 million years ago.

Within ice ages, there exist periods of more severe glacial conditions and more temperate conditions, referred to as glacial periods and interglacial periods, respectively. The Earth is currently in such an interglacial period of the Quaternary glaciation, with the Last Glacial Period of the Quaternary having ended approximately 11,700 years ago. The current interglacial is known as the Holocene epoch.[1] Based on climate proxies, paleoclimatologists study the different climate states originating from glaciation.

Known ice ages[edit]

Major known ice ages shown in blue.

Name of ice age Years BP (Ma) Geological period Era
Pongola 2900–2780[2] Mesoarchean
Huronian 2400–2100 Siderian

(incl. Hirnantian and
Late Ordovician glaciation)
450–420 Late Ordovician
Karoo 360–289 Carboniferous
Late Cenozoic Ice Age
(incl. Quaternary glaciation)
34–present Late Paleogene


The third ice age, and possibly most severe, is estimated to have occurred from 720 to 635 Ma (million years) ago,[3] in the Neoproterozoic Era, and it has been suggested that it produced a second[4] "Snowball Earth", i.e. a period during which Earth was completely covered in ice. It has also been suggested that the end of that second cold period[4] was responsible for the subsequent Cambrian explosion, a time of rapid diversification of multi-cellular life during the Cambrian Period. The hypothesis is still controversial,[5][6] though is gaining credence among researchers, as evidence in its favour has mounted.[7]

A minor series of glaciations occurred from 460 to 430 Ma, and there were extensive glaciations from 350 to 289 Ma.

The Late Cenozoic Ice Age has seen extensive ice sheets in Antarctica for the last 34 Ma. During the last 3 Ma, ice sheets have also developed on the northern hemisphere. That phase is known as the Quaternary glaciation, and was marked by more or less extensive glaciation. They first appeared with a dominant frequency of 41,000 years, but after the Mid-Pleistocene Transition that changed to high-amplitude cycles, with an average period of 100,000 years.[8]

Nomenclature of Quaternary glacial cycles[edit]

Whereas the first 30 million years of the Late Cenozoic Ice Age mostly involved Antarctica, the Quaternary has seen numerous ice sheets extending over parts of Europe and North America that are currently populated and easily accessible. Early geologists therefore named apparent sequences of glacial and interglacial periods of the Quaternary Ice Age after characteristic geological features, and these names varied from region to region. The marine record preserves all the past glaciations; the land-based evidence is less complete because successive glaciations may wipe out evidence of their predecessors. Ice cores from continental ice accumulations also provide a complete record, but do not go as far back in time as marine data. Pollen data from lakes and bogs as well as loess profiles provided important land-based correlation data.[9] The names system has mostly been phased out by professionals. It is now more common for researchers to refer to the periods by their marine isotopic stage number.[10] For example, there are five Pleistocene glacial/interglacial cycles recorded in marine sediments during the last half million years, but only three classic glacials were originally recognized on land during that period (Mindel, Riss and Würm).[11]

Land-based evidence works acceptably well back as far as MIS 6, but it has been difficult to coordinate stages using just land-based evidence before that. Hence, the "names" system is incomplete and the land-based identifications of ice ages previous to that are somewhat conjectural. Nonetheless, land based data is essentially useful in discussing landforms, and correlating the known marine isotopic stage with them.[9]

Historical nomenclature in the Alps[edit]

Historical nomenclature in Great Britain and Ireland[edit]

Historical nomenclature in Northern Europe[edit]

Historical nomenclature in North America[edit]

Historical nomenclature in South America[edit]

Uncertain correlations[edit]

It has proved difficult to correlate the traditional regional names with the global marine and ice core sequences. The indexes of MIS often identify several distinct glaciations that overlap in time with a single traditional regional glaciation. Some modern authors use the traditional regional glacial names to identify such a sequence of glaciations, whereas others replace the word "glaciation" with "complex" to refer to a continuous period of time that also includes warmer stages. As shown in the table below, it is only during the last 200-300 thousand years that the time resolution of the traditional nomenclature allow for clear correspondence with MIS indexes. In particular there has been a lot of controversy regarding the glaciations MIS 10 and MIS 12, and their correspondence to the Elster and Mindel glaciations of Europe.[14]

Time ago
Regional names Global
age /
Alpine region Great Britain N. Europe E. Europe N. America S. America
MIS 103-64 2600–1800 Biber[16] Pre-Ludham[17]
Tiglian A[18]
Tiglian B[18]
Tiglian C3[18]
Tiglian C4[18]
Tiglian C5[18]

Pre-illinois K[17]

Pre-illinois J[17]
MIS 63-23 1800–900 Danube[16] Beeston[17] Eburon[16]

Pre-illinois I[17]
Pre-illinois H[17]
Pre-illinois G[17]
MIS 22 900–866 Günz Cromer[19] Cromer Pre-illinois F[17]
MIS 21 866–814 Günz Cromer[19] Cromer Pre-illinois
MIS 20 814–790 Günz Cromer[19] Cromer Pre-illinois E ?
MIS 19 790–761 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Pre-illinois Chibanian
MIS 18 761-712 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Pre-illinois E ?
MIS 17 712-676 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Pre-illinois
MIS 16 676–621 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer/Don[20] Don[21] Pre-illinois D[17]
MIS 15 621–563 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Muchkap[22] Pre-illinois
MIS 14 563–533 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Oka?[21] Pre-illinois C[17]
MIS 13 533–478 Günz[16] Cromer[19] Cromer[16] Oka?[21] Pre-illinois
MIS 12 478–424 Günz[16] Mindel?[23] Anglia[19] Elster[21] Cromer?[16] Oka[21] Pre-illinois B[17] Caracoles[13] Río Frío?[13]
MIS 11 424–374 Günz?[16] Hoxne[17] Holstein[17] Cromer/Rhume?[16] Likhvin[24] Pre-illinois
MIS 10 374–337 Mindel?[16] Wolston[17] Elster?[16][21] Likhvin?[24] Pre-illinois A ? Río Llico[13] Colegual?[13]
MIS 9 337–300 Mindel-Riss?[16] Wolston[17] Purfleet[25] Holstein?[16] Likhvin[24] Pre-illinois
MIS 8 300–243 Riss[16] Wolston[17] Saale/Fuhne[16] AC Pre-illinois A ?
MIS 7 243–191 Riss[16] Wolston[17] Aveley[25] Saale/Dömnitz[16] Belvedere[26] AC Pre-illinois
MIS 6 191–130 Riss[16] Wolston[17] Saale/Drenthe,Warthe[16] Dnieper/Moscow[22] Illinois[27] Santa María[13] Casma?[13]
MIS 5e 123 (peak) Riss-Würm[16] Ipswich[17] Eem Mikulino[22] Sangamonian Valdivia Late

MIS 5d 109 (peak) Würm[16] Devens/Early D.[28] Weichsel/Herning[29] Valdai[22] AC AC
MIS 5c 96 (peak) Würm[16] Devens/Early D.[28] Weichsel/Brørup[29] Valdai[22] AC AC
MIS 5b 87 (peak) Würm[16] Devens/Early D.[28] Weichsel/Rederstall[29] Valdai[22] AC AC
MIS 5a 82 (peak) Würm[16] Devens/Early D.[28] Weichsel/Odderade[29] Valdai[22] AC AC
MIS 4 71–57 Würm[16] Devens/Middle D.[28] Weichsel/Middle W.[29] Valdai[22] Wisconsin Llanquihue
MIS 3 57–29 Würm[16] Devens/Middle D.[28] Weichsel/Middle W.[29] Valdai[22] Wisconsin Llanquihue
MIS 2 29–14 Würm/LGM Devens/Dimlington Weichsel/LGM Valdai[22] Wisconsin/Vashon Llanquihue/LGM
MIS 1 14–present (Holocene) Flandria Flandria (Holocene) (Holocene) (Holocene) Holocene
Table explanation
Extensive interglacial (similar to Holocene)
Moderate interglacial
Intermediate climate
Moderate glaciation
Extensive glaciation (similar to LGM)
AC = Ambiguous correlation


For sources to the tables, see the individual linked articles.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Walker, M., Johnsen, S., Rasmussen, S. O., Popp, T., Steffensen, J.-P., Gibbard, P., Hoek, W., Lowe, J., Andrews, J., Bjo¨ rck, S., Cwynar, L. C., Hughen, K., Kershaw, P., Kromer, B., Litt, T., Lowe, D. J., Nakagawa, T., Newnham, R., and Schwander, J. 2009. Formal definition and dating of the GSSP (Global Stratotype Section and Point) for the base of the Holocene using the Greenland NGRIP ice core, and selected auxiliary records. J. Quaternary Sci., Vol. 24 pp. 3–17. ISSN 0267-8179.
  2. ^ Robert E. Kopp; Joseph L. Kirschvink; Isaac A. Hilburn & Cody Z. Nash (2005). "The Paleoproterozoic snowball Earth: A climate disaster triggered by the evolution of oxygenic photosynthesis". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 102 (32): 11131–6. Bibcode:2005PNAS..10211131K. doi:10.1073/pnas.0504878102. PMC 1183582. PMID 16061801.
  3. ^ "Chart". International Commission on Stratigraphy. Archived from the original on 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2017-02-14.
  4. ^ a b Miracle Planet: Snowball Earth, (2005) documentary, Canadian Film Board, rebroadcast 25 April 2009 on the Science Channel (HD).
  5. ^ van Andel, Tjeerd H. (1994). New Views on an Old Planet: A History of Global Change (2nd ed.). Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-44755-3.
  6. ^ Rieu, Ruben; et al. (2007). "Climatic cycles during a Neoproterozoic "snowball" glacial epoch". Geology. 35 (4): 299–302. Bibcode:2007Geo....35..299R. doi:10.1130/G23400A.1.
  7. ^ "The Cambrian Period". ucmp.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2024-02-26.
  8. ^ Brovkin, V.; Calov, R.; Ganopolski, A.; Willeit, M. (April 2019). "Mid-Pleistocene transition in glacial cycles explained by declining CO2 and regolith removal | Science Advances". Science Advances. 5 (4): eaav7337. doi:10.1126/sciadv.aav7337. PMC 6447376. PMID 30949580.
  9. ^ a b Davis, Owen K. "Non-Marine Records: Correlations with the Marine Sequence". Introduction to Quaternary Ecology. University of Arizona. Archived from the original on 2017-07-27.
  10. ^ Gibbard, P.; van Kolfschoten, T. (2004). "Chapter 22: The Pleistocene and Holocene Epochs" (PDF). In Gradstein, F. M.; Ogg, James G.; Smith, A. Gilbert (eds.). A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78142-8.
  11. ^ Kukla, George (August 2005). "Saalian supercycle, Mindel/Riss interglacial and Milankovitch's dating". Quaternary Science Reviews. 24 (14–15): 1573–83. Bibcode:2005QSRv...24.1573K. doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2004.08.023.
  12. ^ "Menapian Glacial Stage | geology".
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i Porter, S.C. (1981). "Pleistocene glaciation in the southern Lake District of Chile". Quaternary Research. 16 (3): 263–292. Bibcode:1981QuRes..16..263P. doi:10.1016/0033-5894(81)90013-2. S2CID 140544020.
  14. ^ Böse; et al. (2012). "Quaternary Glaciations of Northern Europe". Quaternary Science Reviews (44): 17. CiteSeerX
  15. ^ Lisiecki, Lorraine E.; Raymo, Maureen E. (2005). "A Pliocene-Pleistocene stack of 57 globally distributed benthic δ18O records". Paleoceanography. 20 (1): n/a. Bibcode:2005PalOc..20.1003L. doi:10.1029/2004PA001071. hdl:2027.42/149224. S2CID 12788441.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an German Stratigraphic Commission: Stratigraphische Tabelle von Deutschland 2016
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, Global chronostratigraphical correlation table for the last 2.7 million years, v. 2011
  18. ^ a b c d e f Kasse (1993), Periglacial environments and climate development during Early Pleistocene Tiglian stage (Beerse Glacial) in northern Belgium, Geologie en Mijnbouw 72, 107–123, Kluwer
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lee et al. (2011), The Glacial History of the British Isles during the early and Middle Pleistocene: Implications for the long-term development of the British Ice Sheet, Quaternary Glaciations-Extent and Chronology, pages 59-74, Elsevier.
  20. ^ "North West European Rivers 3: Don Glaciation (Donian Stage)". University of Cambridge: Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group.
  21. ^ a b c d e f Böse; et al. (2012). "Quaternary Glaciations of Northern Europe". Quaternary Science Reviews. 44 (44): 1–25. Bibcode:2012QSRv...44....1B. CiteSeerX doi:10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.04.017.
  22. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Velichko; et al. (2004). "Glaciations of the East European Plain – distribution and chronology". In Ehlers, J.; Gibbard, P.L. (eds.). Quaternary Glaciations – Extent and Chronology. Elsevier. pp. 337–354. ISBN 9780080540146.
  23. ^ Stratigraphische Tabellen des Bayerischen Geologischen Landesamtes. Ad hoc AG Geologie der Staatlichen Geologischen Dienste (SGD) and the BGR
  24. ^ a b c Velichko, A. A.; Wright, Herbert Edgar (2005). Cenozoic Climatic and Environmental Changes in Russia. Geological Society of America. p. 53. ISBN 9780813723822.
  25. ^ a b "Timescale of the Ice Age in Essex" (PDF). GeoEssex. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 April 2019.
  26. ^ Kolfschoten, Thijs van; Roebroeks, W.; Vandenberghe, J. (January 1993). "The middle and late Pleistocene and climate sequence at Maastricht-Belvedere - the type locality of the Belvedere interglacial". Mededelingen Rijks Geologische Dienst (47): 81–91.
  27. ^ McKay, E.D., 2007, Six Rivers, Five Glaciers, and an Outburst Flood: the Considerable Legacy of the Illinois River. Proceedings of the 2007 Governor's Conference on the Management of the Illinois River System: Our continuing Commitment, 11th Biennial Conference, Oct. 2-4, 2007, 11 p.
  28. ^ a b c d e f Delaney, Catherine (2003). "The Last Glacial Stage (the Devensian) in Northwest England" (PDF). North West Geography. 3 (2): 27–37. ISSN 1476-1580.
  29. ^ a b c d e f Lokrantz, Hanna; Sohlenius, Gustav (2006). Ice marginal fluctuations during the Weichselian glaciation in Fennoscandia, a literature review (Technical Report TR-06-36) (PDF). Stockholm: Svensk Kärnbränslehantering AB (Swedish Nuclear Fuel and Waste Management Co).

External links[edit]

The dictionary definition of glaciation at Wiktionary