An artist's impression of ice age Earth at glacial maximum.
An ice age is a long period of reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Earth's climate alternates between ice ages and greenhouse periods, during which there are no glaciers on the planet. Earth is currently in the Quaternary glaciation. Individual pulses of cold climate within an ice age are termed glacial periods (or, alternatively, glacials, glaciations, glacial stages, stadials, stades, or colloquially, ice ages), and intermittent warm periods within an ice age are called interglacials or interstadials.
In glaciology, ice age implies the presence of extensive ice sheets in both northern and southern hemispheres. By this definition, we are in an interglacial period—the Holocene. The amount of anthropogenic greenhouse gases emitted into Earth's oceans and atmosphere is predicted to prevent the next glacial period, which otherwise would begin in around 50,000 years, and likely more glacial cycles after.
- 1 History of research
- 2 Evidence
- 3 Major ice ages
- 4 Glacials and interglacials
- 5 Feedback processes
- 6 Causes
- 7 Recent glacial and interglacial phases