This book reviews advances in understanding of the past ca. two million years of Earth history - the Quaternary Period - in the United States. It begins with sections on ice and water - as glaciers, permafrost, oceans, rivers, lakes, and aquifers. Six chapters are devoted to the high-latitude Pleistocene ice sheets, to mountain glaciations of the western United States, and to permafrost studies. Other chapters discuss ice-age lakes, caves, sea-level fluctuations, and riverine landscapes.
With a chapter on landscape evolution models, the book turns to essays on geologic processes. Two chapters discuss soils and their responses to climate, and wind-blown sediments. Two more describe volcanoes and earthquakes, and the use of Quaternary geology to understand the hazards they pose.
The next part of the book is on plants and animals. Five chapters consider the Quaternary history of vegetation in the United States. Other chapters treat forcing functions and vegetation response at different spatial and temporal scales, the role of fire as a catalyst of vegetation change during rapid climate shifts, and the use of tree rings in inferring age and past hydroclimatic conditions. Three chapters address vertebrate paleontology and the extinctions of large mammals at the end of the last glaciation, beetle assemblages and the inferences they permit about past conditions, and the peopling of North America.
A final chapter addresses the numerical modeling of Quaternary climates, and the role paleoclimatic studies and climatic modeling has in predicting future response of the Earth's climate system to the changes we have wrought.