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Ice Age New Brunswick

Colour image of globe showing changing position of continentsThe Quaternary Period includes the last 2 million years of Earth history. In New Brunswick, sediments laid down mostly since the last time continental glaciers covered the Province, represent this time period. The oldest Quaternary deposits in New Brunswick are about 100,000 years old from the last interglacial period. Glaciers last covered New Brunswick from about 70,000 to 15,000 years ago. Glacier ice has been melting away since then and is now found only in the high arctic and in high altitude mountain regions of Canada. 

A map of the world during the early Quaternary looks almost like a map of the modern world.  Although plate tectonic activity has been moving continents during this time North America and Europe have only moved about 40 kilometres further apart since the start of the Quaternary.  However, if you could have seen the Earth from space during the Quaternary you would have seen the expansion and contraction of the polar ice, especially in the northern hemisphere. You would also have seen the rise and fall of sea level and dramatic changes in coastlines around the world.

Colour image of globe showing changing position of continentsLife on Earth during the last 100,000 years is almost what we see today, but as glaciers advanced across the northern hemisphere ecosystems were drastically altered. Imagine all of New Brunswick covered by glacial ice more than a kilometre thick. At the time of maximum glacial coverage, nothing lived in New Brunswick. As recently as 20,000 years ago there was nothing here but ice. Where did everything go?

As glaciers advanced across North America the ecological zones became compressed into the southern half of the continent. In front of the ice there was a narrow zone of tundra, then a sub-arctic zone, and a boreal forest. As glaciers retreated, a fresh landscape was created upon which modern ecosystems developed. As glacier ice retreated from New Brunswick, ecological zones including tundra, sub-arctic, northern boreal and boreal forest developed. The fossil record reveals how the environment and climate have changed over thousands of years. Although some organisms became extinct during the Quaternary, such as mastodons and giant beavers, many other species have moved to keep pace with the changing environment.

Has the Quaternary come to an end? Some scientists think we have entered a new geologic period called the Anthropocene, a time when the Earth has been significantly altered by humans.