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Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group

Cambridge Quaternary

Welcome to the last 2.6 million years!

Knowledge of the palaeoenvironment and palaeogeography of the recent geological past is fundamental to our understanding of modern physical, biological and human environments. Understanding this period, the Quaternary, is the central focus of research in the Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group (QPG).

The Quaternary, the last 2.6 million years of geological time, saw major climatic changes which caused ice sheets to advance into temperate 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.

We use a multidisciplinary approach which embraces wide ranging litho-, bio- and chronostratigraphical methods to unravel events during Quaternary and later Neogene time. Current research of the QPG includes:

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And web publications on:

The QPG is part of the Cambridge Quaternary (CQ - formerly the Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research - GIQR) ,
within the Department of Geography , University of Cambridge .


Harry Elderfield

harryelderfield 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 Lyell, Goldschmidt 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.

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:

PhD awarded

It is a pleasure to announce that Ms Samia Akram has been awarded a PhD degree by Punjab University following approval of her thesis entitled 'Palynology of the Early Jurassic Sediments (Datta Formation) Salt Range, Pakistan' (Lahore: Saturday, 20 February, 2016). Ms Akram visited the QPG laboratories for six months during her thesis research.

The human layer



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.


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.

Simon Price awarded a Future Cities Prize Fellowship 2015


PhD student Simon Price has been awarded a Future Cities Prize Fellowship to present his ideas of what cities will be like at the first annual Future Cities conference in July 2016.

Emma Gatti: an Italian scientist at NASA - "I try to find water on Mars".


Emma Gatti, from Milan, is a geochemistry and vulcanologist who, after her doctorate at Cambridge, has landed at NASA where she is searching for water on Mars.

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

Professor Herb Wright

We are sad to announce the death on 12 November, 2015 of Professor Herb Wright at the age of 98. His Department of Geology & Geophysics at the University of Minnesota will host a memorial gathering in the near future. An overview of his career can be found here on the Minnesota Science & Technology website at A collection of photographs prepared for his 90th birthday is available on the web( It conveys his huge impact on Quaternary Science, and how influential he was in the developing careers of many scientists. It also reflects the joy and camaraderie of fieldwork with Herb, an intangible yet vital aspect of his impact on the community. He truly will be missed.


Professor Andrei Velichko

We regret to announce that Professor Andrei Velichko, our eminent colleague and friend, leader and founder of the Laboratory of Evolutionary Geography, Institute of Geography Russian Academy of Sciences, died on 11 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.

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).

PhilCroll medal QRAcrollmedal

Roy Switsur

It is with deep sadness that we note that former SDQR staff member V. Roy Switsur died peacefully in Cambridge on 5 November 2014. Roy was a pioneer in the field of Radiocarbon Dating and the father of stable isotope dendroclimatology in Britain. His wisdom, and his wit, will be missed across the research community where he had many good friends.

Yulia Iossifova

It is with sadness that we report the death, on 14 October 2014, of our friend and colleague Yulia I. Iossifova, Doctor of Sciences and a Leading Geologist of the Unitary State Association 'Geosynthes-Centre', Moscow, Russia. She is a great loss to Russian Quaternary and Neogene science.


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

'Reading the Anthropocene'


Phil participated 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. The Independent newspaper 5.5.14

The David Mayhew Memorial Meeting


Participants at the David Mayhew Memorial Meeting held at the Department of Geography, University of Cambridge on 17 April 2004.

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.

Applications for the MPhil by research open for October 2015 admission

Applications for the 1 year MPhil by Research are open for October 2015 admission. The deadline for applications is 28 March 2015. Details are available here.

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.

Science Live webchat

science live

new Archaeologists say that the 'Anthropocene' is here - but it began long ago. Science 340 19.04.13. Professor Phil Gibbard will be joining archaeologist 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 is available in French, Chinese, Norwegian, Basque and Spanish language versions (April 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.


The Anthropocene question

s+v12 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).

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 is 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. - Mineralogical Society .'


The recent geological history of Cudmore Grove, Mersea Island

The recent geological history of Cudmore Grove, Mersea Island, Essex was covered by BBC Countryfile on Friday 25 February 2011. The report was screened on BBC1 TV on Sunday 13th March 2011.

With BBC Countryfile presenter Matt Baker (second from left) are Dougal Urquhart (Park Ranger, Cudmore Grove, MerseaIsland, Essex), Dr Steve Boreham and Chris Rolfe (Department of Geography, University of Cambridge):

Cudmore Grove

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:

extent&Chronol 4

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.


From Brandon to Bungay

Now published - From Brandon to Bungay by Richard G. West, 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.


Compilation maps for the Last Glacial Maximum

updated New compilation maps for the Last Glacial Maximum - compiled from the Quaternary glaciations - Extent and Chronology by Jürgen Ehlers & Philip Gibbard (see below). Click on the map below to see the new plot based on Google Earth projection.



Group gallery


click photograph for gallery. Featuring some new pictures from 12 March 2013 excursion!

ukwebarchive site archived by the British Library - UK Web Archiving Consortium.