The Quaternary Period | AQA GCSE Geography | Climate Change 1
Last updated 16 Dec 2022
The Quaternary period stretches from 2.6 million years ago to the present day - a time that has been a global drop in temperature and the beginning of the most recent ice age. It is part of the Cenozoic Era.
The last 2.6 million years is known as the quaternary period – during this timescale global temperatures have fluctuated a great deal – with a gradual cooling overall. The cooler periods are known as glacial periods – during this time ice covered much of the UK, and the warmer periods are known as interglacials.
Glacial periods lasted approximately 100,000 years, with thick ice expanding across the globe, which would then retreat as interglacial periods began, which would last for around 10,000 years.
These changes can be evidenced by extracting ice cores – when fresh falls of snow become buried they trap and preserve evidence of the global temperature at that time and this can be accurately dated to plot graphs that show temperature patterns from as far back as 400,000 years ago.
Some people refer to the whole of the Quaternary period as an ice age because of the permanent ice sheets on Antarctica and Greenland.
However today our average temperature is higher than during almost all of the last 400,000 years. Since 1880 the average global temperature has risen by 0.85°C – most of this has happened since 1970. You can see this dramatic increase in global temperatures on the graph below.