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What the World Looked Like in the Last Ice Age

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

Was it all endless glaciers and frozen ice?


The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), colloquially called the last ice age, occurred roughly 26,000 to 19,000 years ago. This map by cartographer Perrin Remonté offers a snapshot of the Earth from that time, using historic data alongside modern-day topographical data.


During an ice age, sea levels fall as ocean water that evaporates is stored on land in ice sheets, ice caps and glaciers, instead of returning to the ocean. Water levels in the ocean were more than 400 feet below what they are now, exposing large areas of the continental shelf.


World map showing last Ice Age

Click on image to expand (if using a large screen)


In the map above, these areas are represented as the grey, dry land most noticeable in a few big patches in Southeast Asia and between Russia and Alaska. The cold temperatures also caused the polar parts of continents to be covered by massive ice sheets, with glaciers forming in mountainous areas.


Most of Canada and Northern Europe was covered with large ice sheets. The U.S. was a mix of ice sheets, alpine deserts, snow forests, semi-arid scrubland and temperate grasslands.


Africa had a mix of grasslands in its southern half and deserts in the north - the Sahara Desert existed then as well - and Asia was a mix of tropical deserts in the west, alpine deserts in China, and grasslands in the Indian subcontinent.


In a technical sense, we’re still in an “ice age” called the Quaternary Glaciation, which began about 2.6 million years ago. That’s because a permanent ice sheet has existed for the entire time, the Antarctic, which makes geologists call this entire period an ice age.

 
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