The neoglaciation ("renewed glaciation") describes the documented cooling trend in the Earth's climate during the Holocene, following the retreat of the Wisconsin glaciation, the most recent glacial period. Neoglaciation has followed the hypsithermal or Holocene Climatic Optimum, the warmest point in the Earth's climate during the current interglacial stage. The neoglaciation has no well-marked universal beginning: local conditions and ecological inertia affected the onset of detectably cooler (and wetter) conditions.

Driven inexorably by the Milankovitch cycle, cooler summers in higher latitudes of North America, which would cease to completely melt the annual snowfall, were masked at first by the presence of the slowly disappearing continental ice sheets, which persisted long after the astronomically calculated moment of maximum summer warmth: "the neoglaciation can be said to have begun when the cooling caught up with the warming", remarked E. C. Pielou.[1] With the close of the "Little Ice Age" (mid 14th to late 19th centuries), neoglaciation appears to have been stalled in the late 20th century by anthropogenic global warming. Whether it has been temporarily or semi-permanently stalled, neoglaciation has been marked by a retreat from the warm conditions of the Climatic Optimum and the advance or reformation of glaciers that had not existed since the last ice age. In the mountains of western North America, montane glaciers that had completely melted reformed shortly before 5000 BP.[2] The most severe part of the best documented neoglacial period, especially in Europe and the North Atlantic, is termed the "Little Ice Age".

In North America, neoglaciation had ecological effects in the spread of muskeg on flat, poorly-drained land, such as the bed of recently-drained Lake Agassiz and in the Hudson Bay lowlands, in the retreat of grassland before an advancing forest border in the Great Plains, and in shifting ranges of forest trees and diagnostic plant species (identified through palynology).

The view that neoglaciation is ending in present times, is assumed by those who identify the most recent climate changes and global warming as the onset of a new period in Earth history, speculatively calling it the "Early anthropocene", as a coming geological age dominated by the effects of Homo sapiens.


  1. ^ E.C. Pielou 1991:291; S.C. Porter and G.H. Denton, "Chronology of the neo-glaciation in the North American cordillera", American Journal of Science 265 (1967:177-210), noted in E.C. Pielou, After the Ice Age: the Return of Life to Glaciated North America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press) 1991:15 note 13. Pielou discusses the neoglaciation in ch. 14 "The Neoglaciation" pp 291-310.
  2. ^ Pielou 1991:291; geomorphology of glacial moraines suggest that mountain glaciers in British Columbia have advanced and receded twice more recently, with advances peaking about 2800 BP and 300 BP (noting G.H. Denton and W. Karlen, ""Holocene climatic variations— their pattern and possible cause", Quaternary Research 3 1973:155-205), and J.M. Ryder and B. Thomson, "Neoglaciation in the Southern Coast mountains of British Columbia: chronology prior to the Late Neoglacial Maximum", Canadian Journal of Earth Sciences 23 1986:273-87.

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