Historical geology is the use of the principles of geology to reconstruct and understand the history of the Earth. It focuses on geologic processes that change the Earth's surface and subsurface; and the use of stratigraphy, structural geology and paleontology to tell the sequence of these events. It also focuses on the evolution of plants and animals during different time periods in the geological timescale. The discovery of radioactivity and the development of a variety of radiometric dating techniques in the first half of the 20th century provided a means of deriving absolute versus relative ages of geologic history.
Economic geology, the search for and extraction of energy and raw materials, is heavily dependent on an understanding of the geological history of an area. Environmental geology, including most importantly the geologic hazards of earthquakes and volcanism, must also include a detailed knowledge of geologic history.
The temperature record shows the fluctuations of the temperature of the atmosphere and the oceans through various spans of time. The most detailed information exists since 1850, when methodical thermometer-based records began. There are numerous estimates of temperatures since the end of the Pleistocene glaciation, particularly during the current Holocene epoch. Older time periods are studied by paleoclimatology.
Physical geography (also known as geosystems or physiography) is one of the two major sub-fields of geography. Physical geography is that branch of natural science which deals with the study of processes and patterns in the natural environment like the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere, as opposed to the cultural or built environment, the domain of human geography.
Within the body of physical geography, the Earth is often split either into several spheres or environments, the main spheres being the atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere and pedosphere. Research in physical geography is often interdisciplinary and uses the systems approach.
An ice age, or more precisely, a glacial age, is a period of long-term reduction in the temperature of the Earth's surface and atmosphere, resulting in the presence or expansion of continental and polar ice sheets and alpine glaciers. Within a long-term ice age, individual pulses of cold climate are termed "glacial periods" (or alternatively "glacials" or "glaciations" or colloquially as "ice age"), and intermittent warm periods are called "interglacials". Glaciologically, ice age implies the presence of extensive ice sheets in the northern and southern hemispheres. By this definition, we are still in the ice age that began 2.6 million years ago at the start of the Pleistocene epoch, because the Greenland, Arctic, and Antarctic ice sheets still exist.
The last glacial period, popularly known as the Ice Age, was the most recent glacial period within the current ice age occurring during the last years of the Pleistocene, from approximately 110,000 to 12,000 years ago.
During this period, there were several changes between glacier advance and retreat. The maximum extent of glaciation within this last glacial period was approximately 22,000 years ago. While the general pattern of global cooling and glacier advance was similar, local differences in the development of glacier advance and retreat makes it difficult to compare the details from continent to continent (see picture of ice core data below for differences).
Quaternary glaciation also known as the Pleistocene glaciation or the current ice age, refers to a series of glacial events separated by interglacial events during the Quaternary period from 2.58 Ma (million years ago) to present. During this period, permanent ice sheets were established in Antarctica and perhaps Greenland, and fluctuating ice sheets occurred elsewhere (for example, the Laurentide ice sheet). The major effects of the ice age are erosion and deposition of material over large parts of the continents, modification of river systems, creation of millions of lakes, changes in sea level, development of pluvial lakes far from the ice margins, isostatic adjustment of the crust, and abnormal winds. It affects oceans, flooding, and biological communities. The ice sheets themselves, by raising the albedo, effect a major feedback on climate cooling.