What, if anything, is Quaternary?

Van Couvering, John A.; Berggren, William A.; Aubry, Marie-Pierre; Gradstein, Felix M.; Kent, Dennis V.; Hilgen, Frits J.; Lourens, Lucas J.; McGowran, Brian

The formal recognition of Quaternary as a Period/ System was approved by IUGS in June 2009, in accordance with a proposal originated by INQUA. There are reasons to believe that this will have destabilizing consequences for the geological time scale. Until now, the primary divisions of the stratigraphic record, at the Period level and above, have been based on the progressive change of Earth’s biota. The Quaternary, on the other hand, is a paleoclimatic concept based on glacial-interglacial variability, expressed in lithological change. The IUGS vote holds that this paradigm now supersedes the biochronological identity of the Neogene Period/System. Furthermore, to accommodate the most recent INQUA opinion about “when the Ice Ages began”, the ICS agreed to relocate the base of the Pleistocene to 2.59 Ma from 1.81 Ma, enlarging the epoch by 43% and again without regard for its original paleontological definition, or for the vast literature in other fields of Pleistocene research. If history is a guide, the resulting disruption in late Cenozoic marine and vertebrate paleontology, human evolution, paleoceanography and paleoclimatology will be widely resisted, with potential impact on the authority of IUGS. The consequence of abandoning basic principles in order to satisfy the interest of a special group deserves a wider consideration than it has so far received.


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International Union of Geological Sciences

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Biology and Paleo Environment
Published Here
December 10, 2014