Quaternary Palaeoenvironments Group
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:
- Quaternary stratigraphy (of glacial, terrestrial, fluvial and marine sediments)
- Palynology and palaeontology (of interglacial, cold period and post-glacial sequences)
- Vegetational and environmental development (throughout Europe and beyond)
- Biostratigraphy of Neogene/Quaternary deep sea and shallow marine sequences
- Sedimentation and landform evolution (throughout Europe and beyond)
- Historical human impact on natural environments (throughout the world)
- Global continental drainage systems of the late Quaternary and the Quaternary as a whole
This site contains information about:
- Who we are, what we do and where to find us ,
- The group's research and publications
- Relevant seminars: QPG, Quaternary Discussion Group , Specials, Department of Geography, other Cambridge departments.
- News and photograph gallery.
And web publications on:
- the history and role of the QPG
- Drawings of the Quaternary of the North-east coast of Norfolk.a series of downloadable images by G.Slater, C.Green and others.
- History of major rivers through the Quaternary and the Tertiary
- Controls on interglacial sedimentation in lowland British rivers.
- the Quaternary geology of the Cambridge region
- Protocol for AMS radiocarbon dating of plant macrofossil material
- Sediment Archive Store
- CUPOD - Cambridge University Palynological Online Database
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 .
Extreme cooling 1.12 million years ago ended the first human occupation of Europe
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
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
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)
Eric Grimm dies
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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 real story behind Britain's geological exit - more on the Dover Strait formation
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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).
The history of the Subdepartment of Quaternary Research 1948-1994 - by Richard West
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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 .'
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/
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.
click photograph for gallery. Featuring some new pictures from 12 March 2013 excursion!