Station: [103] Glaciers in Saxony

„Should the northern glaciers really have reached all the way from the Scandinavian mountains to Wurzen Hill? I perish at the thought!“  wrote the geologist Bernhard von Cotta, when he classified the striates on rocks near Wurzen as glacial polish in 1844.

Today we know that glaciers covered a lot of central Germany during the Ice Age. The alternation of cold and warm periods caused the ice to move a good distance inland and then retreat again. Between the long phases with temperatures that were much lower than today’s average, there were short periods when temperatures were warmer than we now experience. During the cold periods, a thick ice crust covered the poles and from the direction of Scandinavia, the ice transported boulders and flint stone as far as Saxony. 

And the ice age left numerous traces on the ground as well. These come to light today by way of brown coal or sand and gravel mining. Have a look through the flip boards and you’ll find some dramatic snapshots of powerful geological processes in the earth-layers section.

 The ice ages go back to a worldwide climate change. Two and a half million years ago it was a lot colder on earth and modern research methods have enabled researchers to reconstruct the climate as it was then. The alternation between warm and cold periods is identifiable by the heavy and light oxygen isotopes in sediments and in ice. These are obtained for examination from sediment-drill cores from the deep sea level or from ice-drill cores.  The fewer light isotopes present in marine sediment for example, indicate lower temperatures.  Examination of marine sediment enables the reconstruction of temperature progression over millions of years. In ice drill cores the fossil content of CO2 delivers information about warmer and cooler phases within 100,000-year periods. An understanding of past climate changes enables researchers to predict future climate progression.