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Quaternary news

Extreme cooling 1.12 million years ago ended the first human occupation of Europe

2023

The oldest known hominin remains in Europe have been recovered from Iberia and suggest that early humans had arrived from SW Αsia at about 1.4 million years ago. The climate around this time of the Early Pleistocene epoch was characterized by warm and wet interglacial periods and mild glacial periods, so it has long been assumed that once humans arrived, they were able to survive in southern Europe through multiple climate cycles and adapt to increasingly deteriorating conditions after 900 thousand years ago. A team of palaeoclimate scientists from UCL, University of Cambridge, including Professor Phil Gibbard, and CSIC Barcelona reconstructed conditions from a deep-sea core off Iberia, revealing the presence of abrupt climate changes that culminated in an extreme glacial cooling 1.12 million years ago. The article will shortly be published in Science by Margari et al. (2023) Extreme glacial implies discontinuity of early hominin occupation of Europe.

A word on the Anthropocene

What is the Anthropocene? Does it have to be conceived of as a geological epoch? Our solution questions that assumption and defines the Anthropocene as a geological event: the aggregated effects of human activities that are transforming the Earth system and altering biodiversity, producing a substantial record in sedimentary strata and in human-modified ground. This definition is applicable across academic fields and explicitly recognizes that the Anthropocene varies in time and space.

Henk Weerts dies

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Or friend and colleague Henk Weerts died on Friday following an accident at his house. He was 60 years old. He was born in Meijel, the Netherlands and worked at the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands as a senior researcher in Physical Geography and Palaeogeography. He provided large parts of 'Atlas of the Netherlands in the Holocene' and of the 'Bosatlas of the history of the Netherlands'.

Richard West dies

December 2020

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It is with great sadness that we report the death of our friend, inspirational Quaternary researcher and teacher Professor Richard West. He died on Thursday 30 December 2020 after having been admitted to hospital 10 days earlier suffering from non-Covid double pneumonia. He was 94 years old.

David Hodell elected Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

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Congratulations to David Hodell, Woodwardian Professor of Geology at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, and Director of the Godwin Laboratory of Palaeoclimate Research and also a fellow of Clare College, was elected as an AAAS Fellow in Geology and Geography for distinguished contributions to the field of palaeoclimatology.

Eric Grimm dies

November 2020

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It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of our friend and colleague Dr Eric Grimm. He died suddenly on Sunday 15 November 2020. He was 69. He worked until his retirement at the Illinois State Museum as the Curator of Botany, rising to become the Director of Sciences in 2013. He helped lead the Landscape History Program, which contributed to the understanding of long-term changes in climate, landforms, ecosystems and human-environment interactions and was the basis for the Museum's natural history hall. Most will know Eric for his work on the Tilia pollen program, but among many investigations, he also developed the North American Pollen Database, which was used to refine climate models to predict future climate change and to understand how species adapt to changing climates.

The Dynamics of Geomorphic Evolution in the Makalu Barun Area of the Nepal Himalaya: Jan Kalvoda - published

2020

The Dynamics of Geomorphic Evolution in the Makalu Barun Area of the Nepal Himalaya

A new monograph has been published by our colleague Professor Jan Kalvoda (Charles University, Prague). Research into the dynamics of landform evolution in the East Nepal Himalaya is intended to provide knowledge of the long-term integrity of climate-driven morphogenetic and tectonic processes as an essential phenomenon of active collisional orogeny. Landform patterns of the Makalu – Barun region in the Himalaya are the result of orogenetic processes, as well as the denudation and erosional efficiency under very variable palaeoclimatic conditions during the late Cenozoic. Geomorphic processes and landforms in the region between the Chomolongma and Makalu Massifs and the Sapt Kosi lowland with an elevational gradient of over 8,000 m are explored in relation to morphostructural patterns and in the framework of extreme glacial, glacial and periglacial zones and the seasonally cold/warm humid zone.

The observed landform changes in the Nepal Himalaya on a decadal scale indicate the high intensity of climate-driven morphogenetic processes, especially very effective erosion and transport of weathered material by a combination of diverse exogenic factors, integrated with active orogenetic processes. The dynamic evolution of landforms in the Himalaya is also essential evidence of the present-day severe natural hazards. Published by Kosmas, Prague.

Geologic Time Scale 2020 published

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The latest GTS 2020 was published on 25 October 2020 by Elsevier. The Quaternary Period chapter is authored by Phil Gibbard and Martin Head.

Professor David Q. Bowen dies

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We are sad to announce the death of eminent Quaternary geoscientist Professor David Bowen today 5 October 2020. He had been ill for some time after a fall and broken hip but was discharged from hospital in mid-September.

Professor Vojen Losek dies

We are sad to announce the death of the eminent Czech malacologist Professor Vojen Lozek. He died on 15 August 2020 at the age of 95.

Quaternary Glaciations tops the pops!

News from the Geological Society of London Library.

Janice Stargardt dies

We are very sorry to announce the death of our colleague friend and QPG member Dr Janice Stargardt. She died on Friday 10 January at her home. Professor Cyprian Boodbank (Director of the McDonald Institute) writes: "Janice was...a much respected and cherished long-term member of our community, a Senior Fellow of the McDonald Institute, and a tireless, generous and leading promoter of the archaeology and archaeologists of Myanmar to the world, playing a key role in the achievement of World Heritage status for the historic Pyu cities of that country. She will be deeply missed by all of us".

Phil Gibbard appointed Honorary Member of the Quaternary Research Association

At the Annual General Meeting in Chester on 4 January 2019 Phil was appointed an Honorary Member of Britain's Quaternary Research Association. Phil first joined the Association in 1971 and has since served on the Executive Committee as Secretary, Vice-President and Journal Editor.

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

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

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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.

Phil Hughes promoted

We are delighted to report that Phil Hughes, our ex-research student, has been promoted from his Readership to a Professorship in the University of Manchester. Many congratulations, Phil!

The best place on Earth to mark the Anthropocene's dawn

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Geologists are scouring the planet for a specific location to place a 'golden spike' - to define the beginning of the Anthropocene, a new geological era. Where are the candidates? We have detailed 20th-Century records of all sorts of chemical and biological signals, which means scientists are spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting a locality to use to define the Anthropocene. But it's a double-edged sword. They might use a surge in radioactive plutonium near the year 1950 to mark the boundary – but many other chemical signals didn't change very much between the 1940s and 1950s. "Some things changed across that particular 'boundary' and some things didn't," says Phil Gibbard. A new BBC webpage presents the details.

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

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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 Jun 2017 the Physics Today website by Phil Gibbard.

Wim Westerhoff

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We are very sad to report that our great friend and colleague Dr Wim Westerhoff of the Netherlands' Geological Survey TNO died on Saturday 13 May 2017. Wim graduated in Quaternary geology and lowland evolution at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam. He worked at the Geological Survey of the Netherlands since 1980. Initially he was employed as a field geologist in geological mapping, and latterly as manager of mapping and applied geoscientific studies. His research focused on Tertiary and Quaternary geology. He will be greatly missed. To enlarge Wim's picture with his TNO colleagues in April 2017, please click on the image.

The original Brexit: how tremendous ice age waterfalls cut off Britain from Europe - Manche. Un Brexit préhistorique!

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The process by which the Dover Strait was breached is confirmed by new research. 5.4.17

It is also reported in Der Spiegl, the New York Times and Le Monde. See also report above.

Middle Pleistocene Rhino exposed on Norfolk beach

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Golden spike

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

Harry Elderfield

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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.

New version of the Global chronostratigraphical correlation table for the last 2.7 million years published

The 2016 version of the Global chronostratigraphical correlation table for the last 2.7 million years by K.M.Cohen & P.L.Gibbard is now available from the INQUA-SACCOM and ICS Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy websites.

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IUGS position statement on the 'Anthropocene' - The 'Anthropocene' Epoch: scientific decision or political statement?

Despite what the media may have suggested, the 'Anthropocene' is not a formally defined geological unit within the Geological Time Scale. However, the term has been used by scientists and has been particularly useful for the global change research community. The formalisation of this unit is the task of the working group on the Anthropocene under the IUGS International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). To date, no formal proposal for this unit has been presented by the working group to ICS leaders. The activities of the ICS are conducted under 16 subcommissions, whose members work on specific, longer-term scientific tasks such as the standardisation of stratigraphic units, the documentation and communication of major stratigraphic data to the global earth-science community, and international stratigraphic cooperation. All decisions of the full ICS Commission, comprising over 2000 members in total, are subject to ratification of the IUGS Executive Committee. In their article 'Anthropocene' epoch: Scientific decision or political statement? ICS Chairman Stan Finney and Lucy Edwards (Commissioner, North American Commission on Stratigraphic Nomenclature) express their concern that the drive to formalise this particular unit of geological time may be political.
Download the article here: http://www.geosociety.org/gsatoday/archive/26/3/pdf/i1052-5173-26-3-4.pdf

The human layer

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Phil Gibbard interviewed 13.1.2016 in Helsinki for YLE News on the 'Anthropocene'. Ihmisen mukaan nimetty aikakausi on ehkä alkanut maapallolla – suurin muutos sitten jääkauden (The era named after Man may have begun on Earth - the biggest change since the Ice Age).

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.

Has the planet has entered a new geological era: the Anthropocene?

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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.

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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.

Phil Gibbard awarded the James Croll Medal 2014

Professor Phil Gibbard was awarded the prestigious James Croll Medal 2014 by Quaternary Research Association at the QRA's 2015 Annual Discussion Meeting in Edinburgh on 6 January 2015 by the President, Professor Peter Coxon. (photograph by Kim Cohen).

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Anthropocene: a new geological epoch?

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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.

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

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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.

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The David Mayhew Memorial Meeting

Participants at the David Mayhew Memorial Meeting held at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge on 17 April 2014.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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Phil Gibbard on Science Live webchat

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Archaeologists say that the 'Anthropocene' is here - but it began long ago. Science 340 19.04.13.

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.

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QPG joins GSI3D as a Consortium Member

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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 is available in French, Chinese, Norwegian, Basque and Spanish language versions (April 2013). Other language versions may be published in future.

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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).

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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.

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The Anthropocene question

An article presenting the details of the concept of the Anthropocene and the division of geological time. (published in the August 2012 issue of the french magazine Science et Vie 2012).

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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.

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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.

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Quaternary Glaciations - Extent and Chronology, Volume 15: A closer look

Now available Quaternary Glaciations - Extent and Chronology, Volume 15: A closer look (Developments in Quaternary Science) [Hardcover]
J. Ehlers (Editor), P.L. Gibbard (Editor), P.D. Hughes (Editor). Full digital maps and data from this project are available at: http://booksite.elsevier.com/9780444534477/

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Eruptions That Shook The World

Clive Oppenheimer publishes his new book entitled Eruptions That Shook The World and published by Cambridge University Press.

The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?

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.

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Early Pleistocene human occupation at the edge of the boreal zone in northwest Europe

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.

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Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in Iceland

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.

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New earth epoch has begun, scientists say

New Earth Epoch Has Begun, Scientists Say - article on National Geographic.com about the Anthropocene published 6.4.10.

Nick Shackleton featured on Royal Mail stamps

The British Royal Mail Post Office stamps celebrating the 350th anniversary of the Royal Society includes a design with the image of Nick Shackleton.

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Quaternary geologists win timescale vote

'Quaternary geologists win timescale vote - redefinition rescues once-threatened terminology from extinction' - read report in NATURE 4.5.09 and on Dept of Geography website.

ICS vote to confirm the base of the Quaternary / Pleistocene at 2.6 Ma.

The ICS vote to confirm the base of the Quaternary / Pleistocene at 2.6 Ma. Voting results.

Formal ratification letter of base Quaternary and Pleistocene at 2.6 ma. Read Wiley-Blackwell news release.

From Brandon to Bungay

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.

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Clay minerals in onshore and offshore strata of the British Isles

Clay minerals in onshore and offshore strata of the British Isles. 2006 (edited C.V.Jeans & R.J.Merriman) Mineralogical Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 550pp. Available from the Mineralogical Society of Great Britain & Ireland.

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Are we now living in the Anthropocene?

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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Global chronostratigraphical correlation table for the last 2.7 million years

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.