Croll was the first to suggest that cyclical changes in the shape of Earth's orbit, from elliptical (which is to say slightly oval) to nearly circular to elliptical again, might explain the onset and retreat of ice ages. No one had ever thought before to consider an astronomical explanation for variations in Earth's weather. Thanks almost entirely to Croll's persuasive theory, people in Britain began to become more responsive to the notion that at some former time parts of the Earth had been in the grip of ice. When his ingenuity and aptitude were recognized, Croll was given a job at the Geological Survey of Scotland and widely honored: he was made a fellow of the Royal Society in London and of the New York Academy of Science and given an honorary degree from the University of St. Andrews, among much else.
Unfortunately, just as Agassiz's theory was at last beginning to find converts in Europe, he was busy taking it into ever more exotic territory in America. He began to find evidence for glaciers practically everywhere he looked, including near the equator. Eventually he became convinced that ice had once covered the whole Earth, extinguishing all life, which God had then re-created. None of the evidence Agassiz cited supported such a view. Nonetheless, in his adopted country his stature grew and grew until he was regarded as only slightly below a deity. When he died in 1873 Harvard felt it necessary to appoint three professors to take his place.
Yet, as sometimes happens, his theories fell swiftly out of fashion. Less than a decade after his death his successor in the chair of geology at Harvard wrote that the "so-called glacial epoch ... so popular a few years ago among glacial geologists may now be rejected without hesitation."