ANNUAL REPORT 2004
Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS)
Philip GIBBARDChairman, SQS
Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research, Department of Geography, University
of Cambridge, Downing Street, CAMBRIDGE CB2 3EN, England.
Tel: +44 (0)1223 333924; Fax: +44 (0)1223
333392, E-mail: email@example.com
2. OVERALL OBJECTIVES, AND FIT WITHIN IUGS SCIENCE POLICY
- Rationalisation of global chronostratigraphical classification.
- Intercalibration of fossil biostratigraphies, integrated zonation and
recognition of global datum points.
- Definition of Subseries/Series boundaries and selection of global stratotype
- Correlation of Quaternary rock successions and events, including terrestrial
to marine sequences.
The objectives satisfy the IUGS mandate of fostering international
agreement on nomenclature and classification in stratigraphy; facilitating
international co-operation in geological research; improving publication,
dissemination, and use of geological information internationally; encouraging
new relationships between and among disciplines of science that relate to
Quaternary geology world-wide; attracting competent students and research
workers to the discipline; and fostering an increased awareness among individual
scientists world-wide of what related programmes are being undertaken.
SQS is a Subcommission of the Commission on Stratigraphy.
Officers (chairman, two vice-chairmen, secretary), voting members (20).
(see Appendix for complete listing). There are currently three Working
Groups established the remit of which is there definition of GSSPs for the
Early-Middle, Middle/Late Plesistocene and Late Pleistocene/Holocene boundaries.
These individuals represent a broad spectrum of specialised stratigraphical
disciplines from throughout the World. Publication of information is by website.
3a. Nominated Officers for 2004-2008:
Chairman: Dr. Philip Gibbard
Godwin Institute of Quaternary Research
Department of Geography, University of Cambridge
Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EN, England
Vice-Chair: Dr. Jerry McManus
Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute
Wood's Hole, MA, USA
2nd Vice-Chair: Dr. John van Couvering
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79 St., New York, NY 10024 USA
Tel: 212-769-5657; Fax: 212-769-5653
Secretary: Dr. Thijs van Kolfschoten
Faculty of Archaeology, Leiden University
Reuvenplaats 4, 2300 RA Leiden, The Netherlands
4. EXTENT OF NATIONAL/REGIONAL/GLOBAL SUPPORT FROM SOURCES OTHER
Support of the Chairman's University (University of Cambridge),
and the International Quaternary Association (INQUA).
5. CHIEF ACCOMPLISHMENTS IN 2004
Three GSSP Working Groups are established and all have fully functioning
formal working groups.
The Working Group on Lower-Middle Pleistocene boundary began in November
2002 and currently comprises 11 members: Brad Pillans (Australia, Chair),
Thijs Van Kolfschoten (The Netherlands), Andrei Dodonov (Russia), Anastasia
Markova (Russia), Lui Jiaqi (China), Charles Turner (UK), Luc Lourens (The
Netherlands), Martin Head (UK), Cesare Ravazzi (Italy), Craig Feibel (USA)
and Tom Meijer (The Netherlands).
The 32nd IGC Congress in Florence, in August, enabled many members of the
Working Group to meet and discuss current and future activities.
A symposium entitled “Early-Middle Pleistocene transition”, convened by Phil
Gibbard and Thijs van Kolfschoten, included 7 oral and 6 poster presentations.
After the symposium, a meeting of the working group was held, chaired by
Brad Pillans and attended by 9 members and 7 other conference attendees.
The meeting passed two significant resolutions:
1. That the Early -Middle Pleistocene boundary be defined in a marine section
at a point “close to” the Matuyama/Brunhes magnetic boundary.
2. That a GSSP should not be defined in a marine core, but in a marine section
A second symposium “Pleistocene chronostratigraphic subdivision and stratigraphic
boundaries in the mammalian record” was convened by Neri Ciaranfi, Phil Gibbard
and Anastasia Markova, which included 9 oral and 7 poster presentations.
Two candidate GSSPs in southern Italy were described – Montalbano Jorica
section and Valle di Manche section.
Following the Florence meeting, Dr Pillans received information on a third
candidate GSSP: the Chiba section in Japan. A fourth potential candidate
section (Castlecliff, Wanganui Basin, New Zealand) is ruled out because it
is a shallow-water section and contains significant unconformities.
Other potential GSSPs may be considered if they are brought to the attention
of the working group within the near future.
The first meeting of the Working Group on the Middle/Late Pleistocene
boundary, chaired by Professor Thomas Litt (Bonn, Germany), was held
in Bonn, Germany 19-20 March 2004. The aim was to begin selecting sites for
a potential boundary stratotype.
Phil Gibbard (Cambridge) summarised the present state of the discussion:
this boundary is not formally defined, but has been placed at the beginning
of the Last Interglacial (Eemian, Mikulino, Sangamonian etc.), since the
1930s. More recently it has been placed at the base of Marine Isotope
Stage (MIS) 5 by Richmond (1996). Although it may seem attractive to
define the boundary in an ocean sediment sequence, the inherent imprecision
of most of such sequences, resulting from slow sedimentation rate, combined
with the effects of bioturbation, suggests that for high-resolution stratigraphical
purposes they are generally unsuitable for the definition of golden spike-type,
time-plane boundaries. It is therefore proposed that the Saalian-Eemian
stage boundary, and thus the Middle-Upper Pleistocene Subseries boundary-stratotype
be defined from a terrestrial locality (Amsterdam-Terminal borehole).
This parastratotype locality is also to be proposed as the Eemian Stage unit-stratotype
for NW Europe.
Aleid Bosch (Utrecht) informed about the stratotype of the Eemian in the
Netherlands. He gave further information about the parastratotype locality
at 63.5 m below surface in the Amsterdam-Terminal borehole, The Netherlands
(52E0913: 52 22 45N; 4 54 52E) which is the best for the Eemian in the Netherlands.
Thomas Litt (Bonn) and Charles Turner (Cambridge) discussed the correlation
and synchronisation of Eemian sequences in continental Europe based on palynological
Jerry McManus (Woods Hole) informed about the potential of the oxygen isotope
signal for global correlation based on benthic foraminifera. He demonstrated
the importance of the Heinrich Event H11 at the onset of MISubstage 5e for
correlation in the North Atlantic region and adjacent areas.
Wighart von Koenigswald (Bonn) summarised the state of the art concerning
micro-mammalian stratigraphy. He described the potential of the transition
between Arvicola cantianus and A. terrestris during the beginning of the
Last Interglacial in northern central Europe, however he underlined the regional
variability caused by migration processes.
The final discussion has shown that the difficulties posed by using boreholes
as type-localities, because of potential problems arising for access and
lateral correlation etc., should not be underestimated. However, the lack
of exposures in the type area necessitate the use of a reference borehole
for this purpose.
It was agreed that it is important to select several parastratotypes for
the Middle/Upper Pleistocene boundary both in the continental and marine
To make further progress and to get financial support for regular annual
meetings and workshops, Thomas Litt will prepare a proposal which will be
sent to DFG (German Research Foundation) and eventually to IGCP.
The Working Group on the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary is chaired
by Professor Mike Walker (University of Wales, Lampeter). The Working
Group draws on the expertise of the INTIMATE (Integration of Ice-core, Marine
and Terrestrial Records) Group which is, in turn, a Working Group of the
INQUA Palaeoclimate Commission. Accordingly, it includes ice-core, marine
and terrestrial scientists. The intention is to define the GSSP/GSSA for
the base of the Holocene in the new NorthGRIP ice core (Nature, 2004, 431,
147-151) from which a high-resolution, multi-parameter proxy climate record
is in the process of being generated. The aim will be to define the
base of the Holocene with a temporalresolution of 10 yr, or possibly even
Once that boundary has been defined, it is intended to bring forward proposals
for suitable parastratotypes in marine and terrestrial sequences in both
the northern and southern hemispheres. The broad technical and geographical
expertise of the Working Group should ensure that the most appropriate parastratotypes
In addition to the Working Group activities noted above, the Subcommission
website continues to be expanded at: http://www.quaternary.stratigraphy.org.uk
This site is used as the main line of communication for the Subcommission.
The pages are maintained by Phil Gibbard.
In July, a substantial correlation chart
for the chronostratigraphy of the last 2.7 million years was published (cf.
Science Plan task 9c, below). In co-operation with the Royal Dutch
Shell BV company, 200 copies of the poster at A3 size and 50 copies at A2
size were produced and distributed free of charge. The posters were
also distributed at meetings over the last 6 months, including the IGC in
Florence and a series of Quaternary conferences. The poster will be
published in the international journal Boreas in the first issue of
2005, for which we thank, the editor Professor Jan Piotrowski (Århus)
for his support.
At the International Geological Congress in Florence, an open meeting of the Subcommission was held.
This very productive meeting was attended by over 30 people. Apart
from the normal work of the Subcommission, two major topics were discussed:
1. Proposal for new Working Group, and 2. The status of the term 'Quaternary'.
The former concerned the establishment of a working group to compile regional
sequences. During the compilation of the correlation chart it had become
clear that there were many regional stage division systems for the Quaternary
and that it would be desirable to assemble and catalogue these schemes. Dr
Wim Westerhoff (The Netherlands) has been invited to establish a working
group for this enterprise.
The second concerned the need to formulate a Subcommission response to the
matter of the attempted suppression of the term Quaternary, as a formal System-status
unit, by the ICS Executive. Much has been said about the status of
the Quaternary in the past two years. The publication of a new geological
time scale, in which the Neogene extended to the present day, had increased
the intensity of this debate, particularly since it was apparently made by
members of the ICS without consultation with Quaternary workers.
It was repeatedly noted through the year that the decision to eliminate the
Quaternary was unacceptable for the vast majority of the Quaternary workers.
Arguments mentioned included:
- It is a well-established chronostratigraphical term that has been in
use for over 150 years.
- The term has been adopted not only for the time period but also for
the identification of a substantial community of workers (geologists, geomorphologists,
archaeologists, biologists, oceanographers, climatologists etc.)
- Although relatively short it is nevertheless highly distinct in that
it is characterised by short term climatic oscillations that have given rise
to continental scale glaciations, sea-level changes and accompanying plant
and animal migrations on a scale not seen in the previous periods.
- The evolution and extinction of mammals (including hominins) is very
- The term Quaternary is strongly established not only in academic circles
but in general, popular scientific literature. Lumping the last 17 million
years will confuse the general public.
During this discussions the participants voted on two proposals:
1. Should the Quaternary be maintained as a formal chronostratigraphic unit?
2. Should the Quaternary be kept at system rank or subsystem rank?
The first question was carried by 25 in favour and 1 against and the second
proposal was carried by 22 in favour, 1 against and 3 abstentions.
The results of these discussions were communicated to the ICS Executive by
the SQS board.
In order to strengthen the interchange of information between the INQUA Commission
on Stratigraphy and Geochronology, the Secretary Valerie Hall (Queen's University,
Belfast) was invited by Phil Gibbard to become an ex-officio member of the
6. WORK PLAN, CRITICAL MILESTONES, ANTICIPATED RESULTS AND COMMUNICATIONS
TO BE ACHIEVED NEXT YEAR:
Following the deliberations and pressure from the community, the ICS Executive
established a working group ('task force') on the definition of the Quaternary
in November 2004. This group are due to report to the meeting to be
held in Leuven, Belgium in September 2005. It was originally agreed
that the group should comprise 6 representatives, three proposed by INQUA
and three proposed by SQS, together with Jim Ogg as Secretary and a neutral
chairman agreed by the two organisations. However, subsequently the
ICS Executive changed their opinion and appointed Phil Gibbard, Nick Shackleton
and John van Couvering themselves without consultation with the SQS officers.
At the time of writing this working group is yet to begin its work.
All three working groups will continue to function in 2005. It is likely
that the Working Group on the Pleistocene-Holocene Boundary will be in a
position to submit its proposal before the end of the year. Other groups
will also continue their deliberations.
As noted last year we are currently considering the possibility of establishing
1-2 additional working groups, possibly jointly with the INQUA Commission
on Stratigraphy and Geochronology. The first will be concerned with
dating significant boundaries (including the GSSP and potential parastratotypes),
particularly in the Early to early Middle Pleistocene. This group would
be chaired by Professor Valerie Hall. A second working group to consider
the formal chronostratigraphical/geochronological status of very short-time
divisions (durations of 1-5 ky) currently being recognised in the late Quaternary,
e.g. events, phases, oscillations etc.(sometimes referred to as 'sub-Milankovitch
scale oscillations') may also be proposed. As yet these groups have
not been established because workers have too heavy a workload to begin their
7. BUDGET FROM ICS IN 2004 AND REQUESTED FOR 2005
Currency in British Pounds (£), based on an exchange rate of £1
GBP = 1.94028 US$ (6.12.04)
Actual costs 2004
Amount carried over from 2003
Amount received from ICS
General office expenses
Contribution towards cost of web-site
Current bank balance
Proposed costs for 2004
General office expenses
Contribution towards cost of website
Contributions to Working Groups
Support for meetings
Total 2004 budget
Potential funding sources outside IUGS
Financial support will be sought by individual members from their grant-awarding
bodies for specific projects such as research projects and meetings, but
support has also been received from INQUA through interaction with the INQUA
Commission on Stratigaphy and Geochronology.
8. OBJECTIVES AND WORK PLAN FOR NEXT 5 YEARS (2003-2007)
The Science plan to be completed before the year 2008 will be as follows:
a. Formalisation of Global Stratotype section and Points (GSSP) for the Lower/Middle
and for the Middle/Upper subseries/subepoch boundaries of the Pleistocene
Series/Epoch. The formal nomenclature for the subseries/subepoch divisions
of the Pleistocene will be Lower/Early, Middle/Mid, and Upper/Late.
b. Formalisation of a GSSA for the base of the Holocene Series/Epoch.
c. An international correlation chart for the most commonly used regional
stratigraphic units and isotope stages. No international stage-level
subdivisions for the Pleistocene or Holocene will be formalised. This
has now been completed and will be published in early 2005, as noted above.
d. The voting members, and make-up of each GSSP task group, should strive
to provide a uniform coverage of terrestrial, shallow-marine and pelagic
settings with global coverage.
e. Progress and discussions within the Subcommission will be summarised through
an active SQS website.
Together the officers “will compile a list of active persons willing
to act as voting members. The latter will consist of individuals who
will represent the widest-possible range of Quaternary stratigraphical expertise
and will include no more than two persons from each geographical region”.
The full list is given below.