Annual report 2003

Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (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:


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 sections.
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 .  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


Support of the Chairman’s University (University of Cambridge), and the International Quaternary Association (INQUA).


Three GSSP Working Group are established and all have fully functioning formal working groups.

The SQS Working Group on Lower-Middle Pleistocene boundary was established  in November 2002, comprising some 10 members, chaired by Davide Castradori. At that time members included Thijs Van Kolfshoten (The Netherlands), Andrei Dodonov (Russia), Anastasia Markova (Russia), Jiaqi Lui (China), Charles Turner (UK), Richard Preece, Luc Lourens (The Netherlands), Martin Head (UK), Rainer Gersonde, Cesare Ravazzi (Italy), Lawrence Guy Straus (USA). Additional members Brad Pillans (Australia), Craig Feibel (USA) and Tom Meijer (The Netherlands) were subsequently added.

Davide Castradori asked members to compile a Powerpoint presentation showing stratigraphic datums in the range 1.1 to 0.6 Ma, encompassing the time range of potential interest in defining the boundary, linked to the marine isotope record. This task was completed in February 2003 and circulated to members for comment in early March.  Unfortunately at about this time Davide had to step down as chair of the group, owing to pressure of other work commitments. He was replaced by Brad Pillans.

Martin Head and Phil Gibbard convened a one-day symposium on Early-Middle Pleistocene transitions, held at University of Cambridge in mid-April 2003. A number of working group members attended and made presentations (the full report is available on the SQS website: ).   A special volume in preparation (eds. M. J. Head and P.L. Gibbard) will including papers presented at this meeting, and is to be published by the Geological Society of London.

Some WG members attended the INQUA Congress in Reno in July/August, where a poster session on major subdivision of the Quaternary was convened by Jiaqi Lui and Phil Gibbard. Brad Pillans contributed a poster summarising the evidence from Australasia in favour of defining the boundary at the Matuyama/Brunhes palaeomagnetic boundary (0.78 Ma) – see also the following publication: Pillans, B., 2003. Subdividing the Pleistocene using the Matuyama-Brunhes boundary (MBB): an Australasian perspective. Quaternary Science Reviews , 22: 1569-1577.

In November, Brad Pillans circulated a proposal to members, for discussion, that the boundary be defined at or near the MBB. That discussion is continuing, and it is expected that potential GSSP’s will be considered in the months before the IGC meeting in Florence in 2004.

The Working Group on the Middle/Late Pleistocene Boundary, chaired by Professor Thomas Litt (Bonn, Germany), has already begun selecting sites for a potential boundary stratotype.  The Middle/Late Pleistocene Boundary is at present not formally defined, but has up till now been placed at the beginning of the Last Interglacial (Eemian) or Marine Isotope Stage 5e (see proposal from the former INQUA Commission on Stratigraphy: Richmond 1996: The INQUA-approved provisional Lower-Middle Pleistocene boundary. In: Turner, C. [ed.]: The early Middle Pleistocene in Europe, 319-326; Rotterdam (Balkema). The task of the working group will be therefore the preparation of a formalization of a Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the Middle/Upper Subseries of the Pleistocene Series.  Very recently, P. L. Gibbard (2003: Definition of the Middle-Upper Pleistocene boundary. Global and Planetary Change, 36: 201-208; Amsterdam) 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, The Netherlands). To find an agreement and to formulate an official proposal for the voting members of the SQS, we established a group with a good geographical coverage and with experience from different stratigraphic fields (see below). The next step is to organize a workshop of the working group in Bonn at beginning of 2004.

The Working Group on the Pleistocene-Holocene Boundary is chaired by Professor Mike Walker (University of Wales, Lampeter). This Working Group is to be organised through INTIMATE (Integration of Ice Core, Marine and Terrestrial Records), which is a core programme of the INQUA (International Quaternary Union) Palaeoclimate Commission.  At the recent INQUA Congress in Reno, Nevada, USA (23-30 July 2003), the Chair of SQS, Dr Phil Gibbard, gave a short paper to the INTIMATE Workshop outlining the background to the proposals by the International Stratigraphy Commission for the establishment of working groups to determine the four key boundaries of the Pleistocene.  The Workshop endorsed the proposal that INTIMATE should take on the task of defining the Pleistocene-Holocene GSSP boundary and that the most suitable site would be the Greenland Ice sheet, using the ice-core record.

In addition to the activities noted above, a Subcommission website has been established at:    This site is used as the main line of communication for the Subcommission.  As well as showing information on the structure, composition and work programme of the Subcommission, it includes an information section.  Pages on Quaternary stratigraphical nomenclature, history and new developments are also included.   The pages are maintained by Phil Gibbard.

At the INQUA Congress in Reno, Phil Gibbard stepped down as Secretary of the INQUA Commission on Stratigraphy (a post he had held for 4 years) .  A new Commission structure was established with stratigraphy being included in the Commission on Stratigraphy and Geochronology.  The President of this new commission is Brad Pillans, the Vice-President Valerie Hall (Queen’s University, Belfast) and the Secretary is Thijs van Kolfschoten (University of Leiden).  Phil Gibbard will remain on the Commission as an ex-officio member.  These officers serve for 4 years in the first instance. The fact that there is considerable overlap in membership between the INQUA and ICS groups will ensure that there is a constant and efficient exchange of information between the two organisations.