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Cambridge Quaternary

The Quaternary, the last 2.6 million years of geological time, saw major climatic changes which caused ice sheets to advance intotemperate latitudes. Repeated glacial episodes caused significant fluctuations in sea level, major geographical changes and major plant and animal population migrations. Sedimentary sequences record these changes in great detail and are central to unravelling past events.

Cambridge Quaternary is a semi-informal research group of approximately 60 people within the University of Cambridge . Its constituent research groups are based in the Departments of Geography , Plant Sciences , Earth Sciences , Archaeology and Zoology . Links also exist with the Department of Physics and the Scott Polar Research Institute . There is an excellent research environment at all levels, fostered by the staff (10 members), post-doctoral workers, and both Ph.D. and M.Phil. students pursuing interdisciplinary research in a wide range of Quaternary fields. This environment is unique in Britain, offering opportunities for research student training unequalled elsewhere, in terms of the range and quality of the expertise available.

Cambridge Quaternary research

Cambridge Quaternary embraces a wide ranging approach to Quaternary Research. General research themes are based around 'core' areas of staff interest. These include palaeooceanography, archaeology, geochronology, sedimentology, stratigraphy, palaeobotany, dendrochronology, micropalaeontology and palaeoecology. These mainstream interests are supplemented by the interaction of staff members with those from other University and external institutions to provide a diverse spectrum of topics. The understanding of palaeoenvironmental evolution is the central element underpinning all these themes; a foundation that provides a base from which to understand both present and future environmental and climatic change.but

This site contains information about who we are, the Institute's research and publications, together with details of M.Phil. and PhD courses organized within the Cambridge departments. Read about the history and role of Cambridge Quaternary in Cambridge.

News and featured pages


Quaternary Discussion Group (QDG) Upcoming talks 2024

Venue: varies with talk (see below)

Building doors are card operated, so latecomers may not be able to access the venue.

Other upcoming talks:

UserMaarten Blaauw, Queen's University Belfast. Radiocarbon dating and conspiracy theories

HouseLarge Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography, Downing Site.

ClockWednesday 15 May 2024, 17:30-19:00

Building doors are card operated, so latecomers may not be able to access the venue.

UserVasiliki Margari, University College London. Extreme glacial implies discontinuity of early human occupation of Europe

House Harker 1, Department of Earth Sciences, Downing Street.

ClockWednesday 05 June 2024, 17:30-19:00

Previous talks:

UserGeorgnia Falster, Australian National University. Natural and forced behaviour of the Pacific Walker Circulation over the past 800 years

HouseSmall Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography (Downing Site)..

ClockWednesday 24 April 2024, 17:30-19:00

Wednesday 21 February 2024, 17:30-19:00Saija Saarni, University of Turku

Discussing microplastics and the Anthropocene

Wednesday 07 February 2024, 17:30-19:00
Eric Wolff, Department of Earth Sciences (link)

Wednesday 29 November 2023, 17:30-19:00
Pantastic archaeology in the northern Namib Sand Sea
Abi Stone, University of Manchester.

Wednesday 15 November 2023, 17:30-19:00
The Greenland speleothem record of past hydroclimate and vegetation changes
Gina Moseley, University of Innsbruck.

Wednesday 18 October 2023, 17:30-19:00
The Pleistocene Evolution of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current: An
Interglacial Perspective
Aidan Starr, Department of Geography.

Wednesday 04 October 2023, 17:30-19:00
Vacuuming the Atlantic, Paepalology and getting things 'wrong, wrong, wrong!'
– pollen tales from the archives
Kevin J. Edwards, SPRI, McDonald Institute & University of Aberdeen.

17 May 2023 — Andrea Manica, Department of Zoology

Wednesday, 17 May 2023, 17:30–19:00
Location: Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography (building doors are
card operated, so latecomers may not be able to access the venue)

Title : Squaring the circle: a coherent reconstruction of past species responses from multiple lines of evidence

Other upcoming speakers:

14 June 2023 — Matthew Adeleye, Department of Geography


Past talks:

Wednesday, 3 May 2023, 17:30–19:00

Dr Poppy Harding, University of Hertfordshire will be talking about atmospheric regime changes during the grand solar minimum ~2,800 years ago in relation to palaeoecology and palaeoclimatology.

Location: Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography (building doors are
card operated, so latecomers may not be able to access the venue)

Other upcoming speakers:


Wednesday, 8 March 2023, 17:30–19:00

Dr Lauren Davies (Cambridge University, Department of Geography)

"Constraining ash dispersal from historical eruptions"

Venue: Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography, Downing Site.


Wednesday 22 February 2023, 17:30-19:00

Chris Day (University of Oxford)

"North-West Saharan Holocene rainfall driven by interhemispheric temperature differences (with climatic and archaeological considerations)"

Venue. Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography, Downing Site.


Wednesday 15 February 2023, 17:30-19:00

Venue. Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography, Downing Site.

Willem van der Bilt, University of Bergen.

Last Glacial Maximum Lake sediments capture High Arctic surface ocean warming during Heinrich Event 2


Venue: Large Lecture Theatre in Geography (Downing Site)

Wednesday, 16 November 2022, 17:30–19:00

"When did humans first alter atmospheric CO2? Constraining the Holocene CO2 conundrum with new ice core data" Dr Thomas Bausca (Royal Society University Research Fellow at the British Antarctic Survey).

Past talks

Wednesday 02 November 2022, 17:30-19:00

Venue. Large Lecture Theatre, Department of Geography, Downing Site.

Speaker. Prof Markus Jochum, University of Copenhagen.

Title. Dansgaard-Oeschger events and their impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide

Wednesday, 19th October 2022, 5:30pm-7pm, LLT: Dr Amy McGuire (University of Leeds): How high and how fast? Improving future predictions of long-term sea-level rise through studying the Last Interglacial.

Wednesday 25 May, 5:30pm-7pm, LLT: Celine Vidal (Geography, Cambridge): Tephrostratigraphy of the Ethiopian Rift.
Wednesday 8 June, 5:30pm-7pm, LLT: Martin Werner (Palaeoclimate Dynamics, Alfred-Wegener-Institut)
Wednesday 15 June, 5:30pm-7pm, LLT: Lightning research talks



Thursday 6th February 2020, 5.30pm - Christoph Nehrbass-Ahles (University of Cambridge/BAS)
Abrupt CO2 release to the atmosphere under glacial and early interglacial climate conditions
Venue: Clare College (Latimer Room)


Thursday 23rd January 2020, QDG is a double bill about synchronising
climate archives, with Russell Drysdale and Raimund Muscheler (titles
below). Venue: Riley Auditorium and Garden Room (Clare
College Memorial Court entrance) starting at 5.30, and ending at about 7 pm.

Titles are:
Russell Drysdale (University of Melbourne): Speleothem records of abrupt
warming events during the last glacial period

Raimund Muscheler (Lund University): Synchronising climate records via
the cosmic ray signal in environmental archives


Thursday 28 November 2019, 17:30-19:30 Evading problems of IRD in palaeocurrent estimation: Glacial to Recent changes in flows around Greenland

Prof Nick McCave, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge


Thursday 21 November 2019, 17:30-19:30


Thursday 14 Nov 2019

Professor Paula Reimer, from Queens University Belfast, will be giving a seminar on: The IntCal20 radiocarbon calibration curve - composition and consequences

This week we are back in the Riley Auditorium, in Clare College Memorial Court (across Queens Road).

The seminar will begin at 17:30 and will be followed by an extended open discussion.


Antarctic climate of the last 115,000 years from ice cores
Isobel Rowell
Thursday 07 November 2019, 13:10-14:00
The Richard King Room, Darwin College.


Thursday 31 October 2019 5.30pm - 7.00pm, Clare College (Latimer Room) Joe McConnell, Desert Research Institute, current "Shackleton visiting fellow" at Clare Hall will speak on:

"Aerosols and Ancient History in Arctic and Alpine Ice"


Thursday, 24th October, at 5:30 pm (Latimer Room, Clare College) Cameron Petrie (Department of Archaeology, Cambridge) will speak on:

Does climate change really cause collapse? Insights from the Land, Water and Settlement and TwoRains projects

Thursday November 1 2018 a QDG seminar, in Magdalene College (Cripps Court, seminar room 3), was given by Dr. Mario Krapp, from the
Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge.

Title: A comprehensive climate history of the last 800,000 years and its
application to ecological modelling

Understanding ecosystems and their evolution through the climate of the Pleistocene ice ages requires detailed palaeo-climate reconstructions. Global climate models (GCM) are frequently used to explore the many
diverse aspect of past climates.

However, due to their high computational demand a continuous and spatially detailed exploration of the past remains elusive. In this talk, I will present a GCM emulator, which is based on climate snapshot simulations of the last 120ka, that allows us to reconstruct the climate of the last 800,000 years (and beyond) in a quasi-continuous way.

I will show how the predictive skill of the GCM emulator can be tested against existing Pleistocene climate proxies and I will present a few highlights of how such an emulator can
be used for ecological modelling, for example, the dispersal of anatomically modern humans out of Africa.

After this one (Nov 1) , the next Cambridge Quaternary talk will be: Global Estimates of Marine Nitrogen Fixation based on a Non-Redfield Inverse Model

Prof. Francois Primeau (University of California Irvine, USA). Latimer Room, Clare College. Thursday 22 November 2018, 17:30-18:30


Sedgwick 200 event: Talks on the future of geology will be held at the Department of Earth Sciences throughout the day on Saturday 22 September 2018. Although it is no longer possible to book events around the talks, attendance at the talks themselves is open.

Professor Philip Gibbard's retirement symposium on 10 September 2018 was a great success, with almost 100 people attending from a wide range of countries. Best wishes for a succesful and happy retirement to Professor Gibbard. Phil formally retired from the University of Cambridge's Department of Geography on 30 September 2017, but continues to work at the University where he has been appointed as an Emeritus Associate at the Scott Polar Research Institute and as a Senior Fellow at the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research

Professor Waldo Zagwijn deceased


We are sad to announce the death on 26 June 2018 of the eminent Dutch palynologist and stratigrapher Professor Waldo Zagwijn. Details are available here.

Formal subdivision of the Holocene announced

It has been announced that the proposals for the subdivision of the Holocene Series/Epoch (11 700 years ago to the present day) into three stages/ages and their corresponding subseries/subepochs by the International Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (ISQS) (a subcommission of the International Commission on Stratigraphy – ICS) have been ratified unanimously by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The subdivisions now formally defined are: 1. Greenlandian Stage/Age = Lower/Early Holocene Subseries/Subepoch. Boundary Stratotype (GSSP): NorthGRIP2 ice core, Greenland (coincident with the Holocene Series/Epoch GSSP, ratified 2008). Age: 11,700 yr b2k (before AD 2000). 2. Northgrippian Stage/Age = Middle/Mid-Holocene Subseries/Subepoch. Boundary Stratotype (GSSP): NorthGRIP1 ice core, Greenland. Global Auxiliary Stratotype: Gruta do Padre Cave speleothem, Brazil. Age: 8326 yr b2k. 3. Meghalayan Stage/Age = Upper/Late Holocene Subseries/Subepoch. Boundary stratotype (GSSP): Mawmluh Cave speleothem, Meghalaya, India. Global Auxiliary Stratotype, Mount Logan ice core, Canada. Age: 4250 yr b2k. Further details.

The original Brexit: how tremendous ice age waterfalls cut off Britain from Europe


The process by which the Dover Strait was breached is confirmed by new research.

The real story behind Britain's geological exit

New evidence from the floor of the Dover Strait helps paint a picture of how the island has repeatedly separated from and rejoined the European continent. Published on 7 June 2017 the Physics Today website by Phil Gibbard.

Middle Pleistocene Rhino exposed on Norfolk beach


A neck vertebra, thought to come from the now extinct Stephanorhinus hundsheimensis, has been exposed after storms on the beach at West Runton. It is from the Cromerian interglacial Stage deposits. Read report here.

New Professor of Quaternary research appointed

It isa great pleasure to announce that the QPG welcomes Christine Lane, who joined the Department of Geography and the QPG on 1 October 2016, as a Professor of Geography. Christine is a tephrochronologist who works on late Quaternary palaeoclimate records from Europe and East Africa.


Anthropocene: The journey to a new geological epoch

The impact of our species is so severe and so enduring that the current geological time period could soon be declared the 'Anthropocene'. A new series of articles by journalist Sophie Yeo of CarbonBrief, published 5/10/16.


Evolution of a Breckland Landscape, by Richard West - now published

Published by Suffolk Naturalists' Society, Ipswich, 2015. This is another masterly piece of work from Richard West describing the processes and sequence of events that combine to make the landscape of chalkland between Swaffham and Shouldham so interesting.


"Anthropocene pinned to post-war period" - comment in Science 26 August 2016.


Geologists vote to seek a "golden spike," but push for formal acceptance faces skepticism By Paul Voosen

Harry Elderfield


The sad news has arrived on the 19th April 2016 of the death of Professor Harry Elderfield, Professor of Ocean Geochemistry and Palaeochemistry at the Department of Earth Sciences. Harry's intrepid determination to pursue a detailed understanding of changes in ocean chemistry in relation to volcanism and climate led to his winning many awards, including the Goldschmidt award and Lyell and Urey medals, and to achieving very significant progress in the understanding of the behaviour of the oceans. His gentle manner and quiet resolve made him and excellent teacher and leader of an outstanding research group. He will be greatly missed as a scientist, a gentleman, and a friend. Tributes to Harry Elderfield.

The human layer

Environmental Damage Is Bad Enough To Create A New Geologic Period by Alejandro Davila Fragoso 7 January, 2016. Climate Progress.

Human impact has pushed Earth into the Anthropocene, scientists say. 8 January, 2016. The Guardian.

'Case is made' for Anthropocene Epoch. by Jonathan Amos Science correspondent BBC News, 8 January, 2016.

Is our planet entering a new geological epoch? The Christian Science Monitor 8 January 2016.


Helen Gordon asks whether humanity's impact on its environment so huge that the planet has entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene? The idea is gaining ground – and dividing scientists.

The Ice Age

The Ice Age book provides a look at the climatic history of the last 2.6 million years during the ice age, a time of extreme climatic fluctuations that have not yet ended. The book focuses on the changing state of these glaciers and the effects of associated climate changes on a wide variety of environments (including mountains, rivers, deserts, oceans and seas) and also plants and animals. For example, at times the Sahara was green and colonized by humans, and Lake Chad covered 350,000 km2 larger than the United Kingdom. What happened during the ice age can only be reconstructed from the traces that are left in the ground. The work of the geoscientist is similar to that of a detective who has to reconstruct the sequence of events from circumstantial evidence. The book is published on 27 November 2015.

ice age

Phil Gibbard appointed ICS Secretary-General 2016-2020

Phil Gibbard has been appointed the Secretary-General of the International Commission on Stratigraphy 2016-20. The new ICS executive will be installed at the 35th International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa in summer 2016.


Anthropocene: a new geological epoch? Ian Sample (Guardian 16.10.14).

'Reading the Anthropocene'


Phil Gibbard will participate in an open-panel discussion entitled 'Reading the Anthropocene' on 30.10.14 in the Festival of Ideas in the University's Department of English.

The history of the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research 1948-1994 - by Richard West


The age of Anthropocene: was 1950 the year human activity began to leave an indelible mark on the geology of Earth?


Scientists mull a new epoch defined by mankind's dominance of the planet.

Phil Gibbard awarded the André Dumont Medal 2014


Professor Phil Gibbard has been awarded the prestigious André Dumont Medal by Geologica Belgica, the Belgian national geological society. The medal was presented to Phil at the society's 2014 meeting in Ghent on 1 April 2014 by the President, Professor Sara Vandycke.

Brave New Epoch: a search for humankind's mark on the Earth


Paul Crutzen, an atmospheric chemist began popularising the idea of the Anthropocene in 2001, citing evidence such as humanity's alterations of biodiversity and our changing of the climate through the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. Scientists agree that evidence of these and other global changes will leave a lasting impression in the geological record. However, the Anthropocene is not recognised by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), the body which safeguards the geological time scale. Jan Zalasiewicz's efforts may change that—his ICS working group wishes to formalise the Anthropocene time division.

Other geologists argue that the Anthropocene may not be suitable for the geological timescale at all. One critic, Philip Gibbard, a member of the ICS working group, says the time in which we now live should be called the Late Holocene, because it is consistent with this most recent official Epoch. "For the Anthropocene to merit formal definition, a global signature distinct from that of the Holocene is required that is marked by novel biotic, sedimentary and geochemical change," Gibbard wrote in a paper published last year. (article by Billings, in Nautilus 2014).

A new version of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart!


The International Commission on Stratigraphy's (ICS) Chronostratigraphic Chart has been adapted for Shell's headquarters in Den Haag, The Netherlands. Originally published in English the chart is now available in French, Chinese, Norwegian, Basque and Spanish language versions. For more views click on image.

Phil Gibbard on Science Live webchat

webchatscience live

Phil on Science webchat on 19.04.13. Phil joined Bruce Smith from the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, USA, for a Science Live web chat discussion entitled 'Archaeologists say that the 'Anthropocene' is here - but it began long ago. The discussion can be viewed on the Science website and YouTube.

QPG joins GSI3D as a Consortium Member


7.12.12 - GSI3D (Geological surveying and investigation in three dimensions) is a methodology and associated software tool for 3D geological modelling which enables quick and intuitive construction of 3D solid models of the subsurface for a wide range of applications. The methodology and software has been developed jointly by the British Geological Survey (BGS) and INSIGHT GmbH and is being applied by the BGS, where it is the modelling tool of choice. It is now available on general release as part of the not–for–profit GSI3D Research Consortium. The QPG was invited to join the consortium as a full member to assist with the evaluation and development of the three-dimensional mapping of superficial deposits in the British Isles and beyond.

International Chronostratigraphic Charts published

The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) published a new Chronostratigraphic Chart in July 2012 at the International Geological Conference. The chart was designed and produced by S.Finney, K. Cohen and P.Gibbard. It was originally published in English but will shortly be available in French and Spanish language versions (January 2013). Other language versions may be published in future.


The Geologic Time Scale 2012

Published 11.10.12 - The Geologic Time Scale 2012 - edited by F.Gradstein, J.Ogg, M.Schmitz & G.Ogg. Elsevier: Amsterdam. Chapter 30, The Quaternary Period by B.Pillans & P.Gibbard (980-1009).

  • gts2012

Charles Turner awarded the Albrecht Penck Medal 2012

Charles Turner has been awarded the highly prestigious Albrecht Penck Medal by the Deutsche Quartärvereinigung (DEUQUA) at their 36. Hauptversammlung in Bayreuth in September 2012 to mark his contribution to Quaternary research.


Chris Jeans awarded the Collins Medal

Our own Chris Jeans will be awarded the Collins Medal for 2013 by the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland. He was already made an Honorary Fellow of the Society in 2011.

'The Collins Medal will be awarded annually to a scientist who, during a long and active career, has made an outstanding contribution to pure or applied aspects of Mineral Sciences and associated studies. Publications, teaching, outreach and other activities leading to the promotion of mineral sciences, in the broadest sense, will be taken into account in making the award. Nominees do not have to be Members of the Mineralogical Society or nationals of Great Britain and Ireland.'

Mike Hall

The longest serving member of the Cambridge Quaternary group (previously the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research and the Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research) will be retiring from his position in the Godwin Laboratory for Palaeoclimate Research in the Department of Earth Sciences at the end of March 2012. Mike has worked in the University since 1963 and in the field of climate research since 1969, with Nick Shackleton until his death in 2006, then more recently with David Hodell - a total of 48 years.

mike hall

John Hutchinson

Old friend of the Cambridge Quaternary community, Professor John Hutchinson died very peacefully on Thursday 22 December.

Russell Coope

We are very sad to announce the untimely death of our longstanding colleague and friend G.Russell Coope. He died at home on Saturday 26 November 2011 of a heart attack.

Richard Hey

  • It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our friend and colleague, the geologist Dr Richard William Hey. He died on Monday 14 November 2011 aged 94 in Ross-on-Wye. He will be greatly missed. Richard was a founding Fellow of Churchill College


  • Are we now living in the Anthropocene? - coming soon, the opinion of the Geological Society's Stratigraphy Commission. Watch GSA Today.



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