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Mapped: What Did the World Look Like in the Last Ice Age?

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A map of the Earth 20,000 years ago, at the peak of the last ice age, when colder temperatures transformed the planet 
we know so well.

What Did the World Look Like in the Last Ice Age?

What did the world look like during the last ice age? Was it all endless glaciers and frozen ice? The answer is a partial yes—with some interesting caveats.

The Last Glacial Maximum (LGM), colloquially called the last ice age, was a period in Earth’s history that occurred roughly 26,000 to 19,000 years ago.

This map by cartographer Perrin Remonté offers a snapshot of the Earth from that time, using data of past sea levels and glaciers from research published in 2009, 2014, and 2021, alongside modern-day topographical data.

Let’s dive into the differences between the two Earths below.

The Last Ice Age: Low Seas, Exposed Landmasses

During an ice age, sea levels fall as ocean water that evaporates is stored on land on a large scale (ice sheets, ice caps, glaciers) instead of returning to the ocean.

Earth's Ice Cover20,000 Years AgoToday
Surface8%3%
Land25%11%

At the time of the LGM, the climate was cold and dry with temperatures that were 6 °C (11 °F) lower on average. Water levels in the ocean were more than 400 feet below what they are now, exposing large areas of the continental shelf.

In the map above, these areas are represented as the gray, dry land most noticeable in a few big patches in Southeast Asia and between Russia and Alaska. Here are a few examples of regions of dry land from 20,000 years ago that are now under water:

  • A “lost continent” called Sundaland, a southeastern extension of Asia which forms the island regions of Indonesia today. Some scholars see a connection with this location and the mythical site of Atlantis, though there are many other theories.
  • The Bering land bridge, now a strait, connecting Asia and North America. It is central to the theory explaining how ancient humans crossed between the two continents.
  • Another land bridge connected the island of Great Britain with the rest of continental Europe. The island of Ireland is in turn connected to Great Britain by a giant ice sheet.
  • In Japan, the low water level made the Sea of Japan a lake, and a land bridge connected the region to the Asian mainland. The Yellow Sea—famous as a modern-day fishing location—was completely dry.

The cold temperatures also caused the polar parts of continents to be covered by massive ice sheets, with glaciers forming in mountainous areas.

Flora and Fauna in the Last Ice Age

The dry climate during the last ice age brought about the expansion of deserts and the disappearance of rivers, but some areas saw increased precipitation from falling temperatures.

Most of Canada and Northern Europe was covered with large ice sheets. The U.S. was a mix of ice sheets, alpine deserts, snow forests, semi-arid scrubland and temperate grasslands. Areas that are deserts today—like the Mojave—were filled with lakes. The Great Salt Lake in Utah is a remnant from this time.

Africa had a mix of grasslands in its southern half and deserts in the north—the Sahara Desert existed then as well—and Asia was a mix of tropical deserts in the west, alpine deserts in China, and grasslands in the Indian subcontinent.

Several large animals like the woolly mammoth, the mastodon, the giant beaver, and the saber-toothed tiger roamed the world in extremely harsh conditions, but sadly all are extinct today.

However, not all megafauna from the LGM disappeared forever; many species are still alive, including the Bactrian camel, the tapir, the musk ox, and the white rhinoceros—though the latter is now an endangered species.

Will There Be Another Ice Age?

In a technical sense, we’re still in an “ice age” called the Quaternary Glaciation, which began about 2.6 million years ago. That’s because a permanent ice sheet has existed for the entire time, the Antarctic, which makes geologists call this entire period an ice age.

We are currently in a relatively warmer part of that ice age, described as an interglacial period, which began 11,700 years ago. This geological epoch is known as the Holocene.

Over billions of years, the Earth has experienced numerous glacial and interglacial periods and has had five major ice ages:

Major Ice AgesNameTime Period (Years Ago)
1Huronian Glaciation2.4 billion - 2.1 billion
2Cryogenian Glaciation720 million - 635 million
3Andean-Saharan Glaciation450 million - 420 million
4Late Paleozoic ice age335 million - 260 million
5Quaternary Glaciation2.6 million - present

It is predicted that temperatures will fall again in a few thousand years, leading to expansion of ice sheets. However there are a dizzying array of factors that are still not understood well enough to say comprehensively what causes (or ends) ice ages.

A popular explanation says the degree of the Earth’s axial tilt, its wobble, and its orbital shape, are the main factors heralding the start and end of this phenomenon.

The variations in all three lead to a change in how much prolonged sunlight parts of the world receive, which in turn can cause the creation or melting of ice sheets. But these take thousands of years to coincide and cause a significant change in climate.

Furthermore, current industrial activities have warmed the climate considerably and may in fact delay the next ice age by 50,000-100,000 years.

Still on a history kick? Check out Mapped: The Ancient Seven Wonders of the World that captivated people for thousands of years.
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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Maps

Mapped: Average Wages Across Europe

In this map, we visualize average hourly wages across a variety of European countries, based on data from Eurostat.

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A cropped heatmap representing the average salaries (in Euros per hour), across Europe.

Mapped: Average Wages Across Europe

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on Apple or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

Much and more has been written about the best countries in Europe to visit, sight-see at, or vacation in.

But the economic powerhouse of a continent also has eight of the top 20 largest economies, the biggest single-market area, and some of the richest countries in the world.

How does all of that translate into how much people earn across the continent?

We visualize the average hourly salary (in euros), across Europe in a heatmap. The bluer the hue, the higher the hourly salary. Data for this visualization comes from Eurostat and is current up to 2023.

Ranked: European Countries By Average Hourly Salaries

Luxembourg, Europe’s financial services capital, has the highest average salary (€47/hour) across the continent. The country also has the highest per capita GDP in the world.

Scandinavia’s Denmark and Norway also pay higher (€42/hour) though Sweden (€26/hour) falls more in the middle of the pack.

RankCountryAverage Salary (€/hour)
1🇱🇺 Luxembourg€47.2
2🇩🇰 Denmark€42.0
3🇳🇴 Norway€41.7
4🇮🇸 Iceland€39.5
5🇧🇪 Belgium€36.3
6🇮🇪 Ireland€33.3
7🇳🇱 Netherlands€33.0
8🇩🇪 Germany€31.6
9🇫🇮 Finland€30.5
10🇦🇹 Austria€30.0
11🇫🇷 France€28.7
12🇸🇪 Sweden€26.3
13🇸🇮 Slovenia€21.9
14🇮🇹 Italy€21.5
15🇪🇸 Spain€18.2
16🇨🇾 Cyprus€16.3
17🇱🇹 Lithuania€14.0
18🇲🇹 Malta€14.0
19🇵🇹 Portugal€13.7
20🇨🇿 Czechia€13.6
21🇪🇪 Estonia€13.6
22🇭🇷 Croatia€12.7
23🇬🇷 Greece€12.6
24🇸🇰 Slovakia€12.5
25🇵🇱 Poland€11.9
26🇭🇺 Hungary€11.0
27🇱🇻 Latvia€10.7
28🇷🇴 Romania€10.4
29🇧🇬 Bulgaria€8.1
N/A🇪🇺 EU€24.0

Note: The source has not provided data for Russia, the UK, Switzerland, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Liechtenstein, Andorra, San Marino, Monaco, and Vatican City.

Bulgaria records the lowest average salary in this dataset at €8/hour.

The map indicates Northern and Western Europe have higher average wages than Southern and Eastern Europe, reflecting the differences in economic development and wealth.

However, this split has not always been present. In fact, the reverse was true for many centuries. Mediterranean-based civilizations used to be some of the wealthiest in the world, benefiting greatly from the sea’s access across to Northern Africa and the Levant.

But by the 16th and 17th centuries, Atlantic Ocean trade opened up access to far bigger markets, driving up economic growth and wealth accumulation for the western half of Europe.

Naturally, the map of average salaries is also a reflection of the cost of living as well, influencing purchasing power, lifestyle choices, and overall economic conditions for individuals and families.

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