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15.3: Ice Ages

  • Page ID
    4689
  • Some say the world will end in fire,

    Some say in ice.

    From what I've tasted of desire

    I hold with those who favor fire.

    But if it had to perish twice,

    I think I know enough of hate

    To say that for destruction ice

    Is also great

    And would suffice

    - Robert Frost

    Some 2000 years after Hipparchus, in the year 1840, Louis Agassiz, a Swiss scientist, published a book on glaciers --- huge rivers of ice created by accumulated snowfall, filling valleys and slowly creeping downwards to their end points, lakes of meltwater (or, in some other countries, the sea) -- familiar features of his homeland.

    Aletsch Glacier
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Aletsch glacier in Switzerland.

    Glaciers leave an imprint on the landscape: they scratch and grind down rocks, and carry loads of gravel, at times even big boulders, from the mountains to the plains, leaving them far from their origins, wherever the ice finally melts. Agassiz, who later became a distinguished professor at Harvard, noted that such imprints existed all over northern Europe, and suggested that the lands now inhabited by Germans, Poles, Russians and others used to be covered by enormous glaciers.

    America, too, had its glaciers; Cape Cod, for instance, is a left-over pile of glacial gravel. Later geological studies found evidence that such glaciers advanced and retreated several times in the last million years. The last retreat, a rather abrupt one, occurred about 12,000 years ago.

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