The Great Ice Age: Climate Change and Life

The Great Ice Age: Climate Change and Life

The Great Ice Age: Climate Change and Life

The Great Ice Age: Climate Change and Life


The Great Ice Age documents and explains the natural climatic and palaeoecologic changes that have occurred during the past 2.6 million years, outlining the emergence and global impact of our species during this period. Exploring a wide range of records of climate change, the authors demonstrate the interconnectivity of the components of the Earths climate system, show how the evidence for such change is obtained, and explain some of the problems in collecting and dating proxy climate data.One of the most dramatic aspects of humanity's rise is that it coincided with the beginnings of major environmental changes and a mass extinction that has the pace, and maybe magnitude, of those in the far-off past that stemmed from climate, geological and occasionally extraterrestrial events. This book reveals that anthropogenic effects on the world are not merely modern matters but date back perhaps a million years or more.


This book documents the dramatic climatic changes that occurred during the last 2.6 million years of the Earth's history, and the ways in which these affected life and the evolution of humanity.

The Great Ice Age is also our age. The four and a half billion year evolution of the Earth and its biota culminated with the appearance of a life form capable of studying and manipulating environmental systems. That we are now a significant factor that contributes to global change-the 'conscious forcing function' in the evolution of the Earth System-hardly needs stating when the effects of human activities are so obvious in the world around us. We are beginning to realise the enormity of the global experiment we are conducting. This book is not an attempt to describe the impact our industrialised society has on planetary systems. Our purpose is to document and explain natural climatic and ecological changes that occurred during the past 2.6 million years, and to outline the emergence and early global impact of our species during this period.

The embryonic phase of this book began in the womb of an Open University Course Team preparing a new course entitled Earth and Life presented for the first time in 1997. The course examines the co-evolution of our planet and life upon it. This text was to be the last of five books, but by the time we had delivered our overlength second draft, realisation that the entire course was too long had dawned, and so 'The Great Ice Age' was unfortunately jettisoned. By then we had learnt so much (none of us are Quaternary climate change specialists) that we decided to complete the project.

We have two overarching aims. The first is to relate the history of climate change in the context of the interconnectivity between the different components of the Earth's climate system in the style and at the level adopted by the new Earth and Life course. This is addressed in Part 1. Our text is written on the assumption that its readers have a reasonable understanding of the workings of the Earth's climate system, including atmospheric and oceanic circulation and the greenhouse effect. We have, however, provided some revision material in Chapter 2. The second aim is to complement the geoscience-based explanation of climate change and Earth systems with a discussion of how life on land responded to climate change. This includes the evolution of humans, and the ways in which we have modified our planet in such a dramatic way in an exceedingly short period of geological time. This is the rationale behind Part 2, which provides an overview of human evolution, though not providing the same level of evidence and argument included in Part 1.

Following the style of the Earth and Life course, we have deliberately avoided citing in the text all the sources of information and ideas we have summarised. At the end of each chapter suggestions for further reading are given, and the list of figure sources at the end of the book provides more bibliographic information.

We are indebted to many people for help they have given during the gestation of our text but stress that responsibility for errors and omissions rests with the authors. Special thanks are due to the Earth and Life course team, especially Angela

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