Ice Ages are periods in the earth's history when a significant, extended cooling of the atmosphere and ocean took place. The earth last entered such an ice age about 2.5 million years ago, at the beginning of the Quaternary period.
The term 'Ice Age' is usually applied to the earlier part of the Pleistocene, and although continental ice sheets withdrew from North America and Europe about 10,000 years ago, at the end of the this (Pleistocene) epoch, many scientists believe that the Quaternary Ice Age is not over yet. Paleolithic man was contemporary with at least the latter periods of this Ice Age, his remains having been found, together with those of the mammoth and reindeer, in glacial deposits.
Evidence of earlier ice ages also exists. Since the time of the earliest recorded life on earth about 3.6 billion years ago the planet's average surface temperature has been about 20° C (about 70° F), with a range of uncertainty of about 5° C (about 9° F). For more than 90 percent of that time the earth has been free of ice ages, and no large glaciers have existed except in high mountains. Ice ages occur about every 150 million years, and last a few million years. The longest of the ancient ice ages was probably the Permo-Carboniferous, which began about 300 million years ago and affected all southern hemisphere lands. Still earlier, about 435 million years ago, another giant ice sheet extended from Brazil to North Africa and all the way across to Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Paleomagnetic measurements indicate that the South Pole then lay in West Africa. About 600 million years ago, yet another great glacial age occurred. Evidence of these ancient ice ages is provided by layers of tillite, a rock consisting of hardened glacial drift.
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