When you look at the history of earth, the last ice age had major impacts on the flora and fauna of the world as well as biological migration.

If I am creating an earth-like world and am developing a history for it, does that history need to include ice ages? Are they a forgone conclusion in the way earth works?

A follow-on question: if it is realistic that an Ice Age does not occur, how would that impact the flora and fauna of the planet?

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    $\begingroup$ After a bit of research, I'm re-thinking my answer. Earth's history is more complex than I understood. However, the basic answer "there have been many millions of years without ice ages" is still IMO correct, it just needs better evidence than I have to hand. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 19:36

4 Answers 4


I think the answer is they are required for an earth like planet...extended periods without ice? most definitely...but to completely eliminate it, you need a way to explain several occurrences:

Maunder Minimum. In 1645, our sun went through a cold spell where the number of sunspots fell to a low, including 0 for several years in a row. This activity, or rather lack of activity, threw earth into a mini ice age. It's likely that the Maunder Minimum is a far reaching cycle, and much more 'reduced periods of activity' have occurred through our suns life cycle. So you pretty much have to assume the sun is constant for no ice ages to occur, and I think we already know better than to think our sun isn't readily changing year to year.

Asteroid and volcanic activity. Any large scale impacts or eruptions will bring along a nuclear winter type scenario where the globe will experience at very minimum a mini-ice age. An young planet formed when the galaxy was much older might be more insulated from asteroid impacts? A hyper active tectonic plate system might prevent large eruptions from occurring by using the energy that would create a volcanic eruption and relocate the plates with that energy instead? Not sure how realistic any of this is.

It is possible to take a period in the Earths existence and say that there wasn't any ice ages in that period...but it's near impossible to say that an earth like globe would never have an ice age.

Lacking an ice age will have a few key changes on your globe...I doubt something like the grand canyon could actually form without the influence of glaciers. Your land will be much more rugged and lack the soft sedimentary layers that glaciers can cause. It's possible that your terrain will completely lack extended flat plains.

if it is realistic that an Ice Age does not occur, how would that impact the flora and fauna of the planet?

Realism aside...ice age's are one of the key attributes that forces evolutionary change on a greater scale. Ice age's kill...it's an event that operates on a global scale and can be responsible for great stresses to be put on entire species. A global flood brought on by melting glaciers is what possibly eliminated all large species on the North American continent. So without them...

  • Bigger creatures. Mass climate change is the extinction force on large creatures...small can adapt faster. Without ice ages, large creatures would continue to get larger over longer periods of time

  • More diversity within species. Same as above...ice ages for extinction and reduce the earth to the species that can survive an ice age. No mass extinction event, more genetic lines of the same specie surviving, more inter-specie diversity.

  • lack of mammals? Lets face it, warm blooded may never dominate if the extinction force on cold blooded creatures never came to bear. Without an extended ice age, why would warm blooded creatures come to dominate the globe?

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    $\begingroup$ "Without ice ages, large creatures would continue to get larger over longer periods of time" How big could a living thing be? and Is there a maximum size an ocean bound creature could grow to? and Can you simply scale up animals? and and and ... $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Oct 17, 2014 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ How is Grand Canyon or "soft sedimentary layers", or even "extended flat plains" related to glaciers? Global flood eliminated large species in North America? And last research says that at least some dinosaurs were warm-blooded. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 1:26
  • $\begingroup$ Also, being bigger is advantage in cold world. In world without ice periods, species would be smaller not bigger. If this is accepted answer, OP has no idea about physics or geology. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 7, 2014 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterMasiar: well, the US midwest is flat thanks to glacial activity. It's true that glaciers create sedimentary rocks, both as moraine and as tills. I don't think that this can be extended to all extended flat plains on Earth, though. For example lava plains are nothing to do with glaciers. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:36

In the past, Earth experienced long eras without ice ages. On the opposite, in the last couple of millennia, we had several ice ages. You could decide that the last ice age occurred several thousands years ago and that the next ice age might only happen in several thousands of years.

As The Glis Jackel said is his answer, the causes of ice ages can be varied. And if you have a planet similar to Earth, it's likely that the planet will experience some during the course of her life.

Other factors that could lead to a glaciation:

  • Impact with a large asteroid.
  • Decrease in solar activity.
  • Change in the axial tilt of the planet. This is very likely to happen if your planet does not have a large natural satellite. The Moon help in stabilizing Earth.
  • Earthquakes can modify the planet axial tilt too, if they are strong enough. It is a small variation but with time it can make a real change.
  • Change in the planet's orbit.
  • Life can change the atmospheric composition. For example, the first living organisms introduced more oxygen into the atmosphere. And now we are making the planet hotter with carbon dioxide.

if it is realistic that an Ice Age does not occur, how would that impact the flora and fauna of the planet?

Without ice ages. it's business as usual. Life need to adapt when there is an ice age and many species become extinct because they could not adapt to the changing conditions. The can also go elsewhere but it's not always possible.

Not having any ice ages would have an impact on hydrology and on the geography. Most lakes in the northern hemisphere where formed because of the ice ages. Without past ice ages, the Great Lakes would probably not exist. This would surely have an impact of life but the area would still have a good amount of precipitations.

Since it's not the main point of the question, I will put a link to this topic here: Creating a realistic world map - Erosion

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    $\begingroup$ " in the last couple of millennia, we had several ice ages" -- well, depending how you define "ice age". In the sense of "glaciers covered most of Europe and North America in hundreds of feet of ice or more", then not so much in the last couple of millennia, the last ended c.10k years ago. In the sense of "the Thames froze", sure, the so-called "Little Ice Age" ended around 1850, but that shouldn't be confused with an ice age in the common geological sense. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 13, 2016 at 23:51

According to this website, Ice Ages can be caused by the shifting of tectonic plates, changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, and volcanic eruptions. So by this, as long as your planet can change any of those (since it's an Earth like world it can) Ice Ages are possible and most likely would have happened.

I am unsure about changes to organisms on your planet though.


Ice ages occur only rarely. The earth has spent most of its time without them. They seem to occur in clusters apparently caused by alteration of heat flow around the planet cause by continetal drift altering ocean currents.

If we shape the question to mean: Is it possible for a terrestrial planet to exist for billions of years with continents always sliding around, without ever hitting a configuration that causes ice ages?

Unlikely. At some point a terrestrial planet will likely have an ice age.

But there is likely some critical threshold of landmass vs ocean surface below which the continents are not large enough to ever block heat transfer to stop trigger an ice age.


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