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
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. https://www.esc.cam.ac.uk/alumni/sedgwick200
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.
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.
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.
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
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).
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.'
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.
Old friend of the Cambridge Quaternary community, Professor John Hutchinson died very peacefully on Thursday 22 December.
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.
- 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
- Clive Oppenheimer publishes his new book entitled Eruptions That Shook The World and published by Cambridge University Press.
Now published (1 February 2011) - The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time? Theme Issue compiled and edited by Mark Williams, Jan Zalasiewicz, Alan Haywood and Mike Ellis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A369, 835-1112.
Exciting new find of the first Late Early Pleistocene human occupation and interglacial environment in the Cromer Forest-bed Formation at Happisburgh, in NW Norfolk, England, including work by Dr Richard Preece (Zoology Museum) and Dr Sylvia Peglar (associate member of the QPG). Reported in Nature 8.7.10. Further details available on the British Museum's dedicated website.
- Ash from the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland, which fell in Northern Ireland; a shard photographed by Professor Valerie Hall who is currently visiting the QPG.
New Earth Epoch Has Begun, Scientists Say - article on National Geographic.com about the Anthropocene published 6.4.10.
The British Royal Mail Post Office stamps celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society includes a design with the image of Nick Shackleton.
The ICS vote to confirm the base of the Quaternary / Pleistocene at 2.6 Ma. Voting results.
- Now published - From Brandon to Bungay by Richard G. West (associate member of the QPG), an exploration of the landscape history and geology of the Little Ouse and Waveney rivers on the Suffolk - Norfolk border of East Anglia. Available from Suffolk Naturalist's Trust, Ipswich.
- Are we now living in the Anthropocene? - coming soon, the opinion of the Geological Society's Stratigraphy Commission. Watch GSA Today.
- Global chronostratigraphical correlation table for the last 2.7 million years . Compiled by P.L.Gibbard, S.Boreham, K.M.Cohen & A.Moscariello, published for the International Commission on Stratigraphy's Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy. New version now available.
- The Sir Nicholas Shackleton Fellowship Fund.
- Quaternary Discussion Group meetings
- Gallery of Quaternary photographs
- News from the Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group
- A history of Quaternary Research in Cambridge
- Cambridge reference collections