An ice age is a period of long-term downturn in the temperature of Earth's climate, resulting in an expansion of the continental ice sheets, polar ice sheets and mountain glaciers. Glaciologically, ice age is often used to mean a period of ice sheets in the northern and southern hemispheres; by this definition we are still in an ice. More colloquially, when speaking of the last few million years, ice age is used to refer to colder periods with extensive ice sheets over the North American and Eurasian continents: in this sense, the last ice age ended about 10,000 years ago. This article will use the term ice age in the former, glaciological, sense; and use the term glacial periods for colder periods during ice ages and interglacial for the warmer periods.
Many glacial periods have occurred during the last few million years, initially at 40,000-year frequency but more recently at 100,000-year frequencies. These are the best studied. There have been four major ice ages in the further past.