ICS formal vote on the base of the Quaternary and redefinition of Pleistocene 2009

This page outlines the mechanism for the formal voting by ICS voting members on the base of the Quaternary and Pleistocene. The message below details the steps to be taken and the documents below provide the proposals and background information

Message from the ICS President

The message below was received 30.1.09 from Stanley Finney, the president of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, concerning the formal voting by ICS voting members (only) on the topic of the definition of the base Quaternary Period and that of the Pleistocene Epoch.

From: scfinney@csulb.edu
Subject: Quaternary, Pleistocene, Neogene, Pliocene
Date: 29 January 2009 23:42:44 GMT

Dear ICS Voting Members,

We have a most important matter to consider and on which to vote – two different proposals regarding the definitions or re-definitions (rank, extent, and GSSP) of the Quaternary, Pleistocene, Neogene and Pliocene. As you recall, these are matters with long, controversial histories. For me, as chair of ICS, I have approached them slowly and deliberately realizing that we are setting important precedents of procedures and policies for significant re-definitions of global chronostratigraphic units of all ranks and particularly of those chronostatigraphic boundaries that affect units in more than one System and thus involve more than one ICS Subcommission. Redefinition of the Quaternary and Pleistocene are of vital interest to INQUA and the huge community of Quaternary geoscientists, while another significant community of geoscientists – particularly those that are marine stratigraphers – favor a revised Neogene. ICS has dealt with these matters repeatedly with two separate votes with different recommendations being held in the previous term (2004-2008), but with neither set of recommendations being fully accepted and ratified by the IUGS Executive Committee.
Facing these issues as I became ICS Chair and realizing that they must be settled soon, yet in a deliberative, open, democratic process, I organized a public discussion session at the 33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo, where all who wanted could present their point of view and where all points of view presented could be challenged. As matters stand now, the Pleistocene Series is formally defined by the GSSP at Vrica, Italy, and the IUGS EC did ratify the ICS recommendation in 2003 that the Quaternary is a System that follows upon the Neogene. Although some find a basis for questioning the extent of the Quaternary, it has always been shown as comprised of the Pleistocene and Holocene, and the Pliocene has only been shown as part of the Neogene. To me, this is the position from which we start our deliberations.

The “Quaternary Group” (almost all members of the Quaternary Subcommission as well as the executive of INQUA) want the Pleistocene and Quaternary to be re-defined with their bases lowered to that of the base of the upper Pliocene Gelasian Stage, which is defined by the GSSP in the Monte San Nicola section in Italy, changing the calibrated age of the beginning of the Quaternary and Pleistocene from 1.806 Ma to 2.588 Ma and lowering the top of the Neogene System and Pliocene Series.

The “Neogene Group” (the majority of members of the Neogene Subcommission and many marine stratigraphers) want, instead, to extend the Neogene System upwards to the include the Pleistocene and Holocene. The want the Pleistocene to remain as defined by the Vrica GSSP. They want the Pliocene Series to be divided into a Lower Pliocene Series comprised of the Zanclean and Piacenzian Stages and an Upper Pliocene Series comprised of the Gelasian Stage. And they want the Quaternary to be composed of the Upper Pliocene and Pleistocene and to be either a Superseries within the Neogene System or at some alternate rank. These proposals and their history and justifications are described in detail in the attached documents and those to follow.

Following the public discussion meeting in Oslo, I asked leaders of each group to submit written proposals to ICS, a necessary step before ICS could consider them. Both proposals, which I here refer to as the Quaternary and Neogene proposals, require revisions to currently approved or accepted boundaries of ratified chronostratigraphic units of the Quaternary and the Neogene systems. Accordingly, when I received the proposals, I forwarded them to the respective subcommissions for consideration and for votes of approval or rejection. The voting members of the Quaternary Subcommission voted overwhelmingly to approve the Quaternary proposal and to reject the Neogene proposal. The voting members of the Neogene Subcommission voted overwhelmingly to approve the Neogene proposal and to reject the Quaternary proposal.

As the next step, the matter comes to the ICS voting members for consideration, discussions, deliberations, and votes for approval or rejection. To initiate this stage of the process, I send you this letter and the two submitted proposals. Next week, I will send you a series of supporting documents, provided to me by proponents of the two proposals. The vote we take, if ratified by the IUGS EC, could have a significant impact on the Global Chronostratigraphic Chart/ Geologic Time Scale, and it is of immediate interest and concern to large communities of geoscientists. Thus, it is the responsibility of each of you to carefully study the issues, to follow the deliberations and discussions, participating as much as possible, and eventually to make an informed vote. No doubt, many geoscientists who are not voting members may wish to make their opinions known, and we will include them in the discussions, as appropriate and feasible. Because the ICS website is currently being rejuvenated, we likely cannot use it to carry out our discussions, although I have asked our new webmaster (Fan Junxuan) to try to make a discussion page operational. Until then, I ask that you send to me any comments, questions, opinions that you have, and I will distribute them to the other ICS voting members as appropriate. I will keep a full record and I hope eventually post all on the ICS website.

I look forward to working with all of you to successfully complete this matter, which means ratification of our decision by the IUGS EC.

Best wishes,

Stanley C. Finney, Chair
Department of Geological Sciences
California State University – Long Beach
Long Beach, CA 90840 USA
Phone: (562) 985-8637
FAX: (562) 985-8638
e-mail: scfinney@csulb.edu
Co-Director, Environmental Science & Policy Program
Chair, International Commission on Stratigraphy (IUGS)

Details of voting procedure from Stan Finney


First round

All ballots for the first round of voting on”Redefinition of the Quaternary-Neogene……” have been received. The results are attached. Only the Quaternary Proposal received a majority of yes votes. Thus, the ballot for the second round of voting includes only the Quaternary proposal. It must receive a 60% majority of yes votes among the ballots submitted to be approved by ICS and forwarded to the IUGS Executive Committee for ratification. I have set 22 May 2009, 30 days from today, as the deadline for return of 2nd round ballots.

Stanley C. Finney, Chair 22.4.09

Result details of the FIRST vote on the definition of Quaternary – Pleistocene

Second round

“The Quaternary proposal was approved by an 89% majority yes vote. The Quaternary proposal will [now] be forwarded to the IUGS Executive Committee for ratification.”

Stanley C. Finney, Chair 21.5.09

Result details of the SECOND vote on the definition of Quaternary – Pleistocene

Documents and further information

Quaternary proposal (joint submission by SQS and INQUA)

  1. SQS/INQUA Quaternary proposal
  2. SQS voting results
  3. SQS comments on Quaternary proposal
  4. SQS comments on SNS counter-proposal
  5. SQS vote on Neogene counter-proposal
  6. Support article 1: Ogg & Pillans 2008
  7. Support article 2: Head et al. 2008
  8. Letter from Secretary T. van Kolfschoten
  9. Support letter from INQUA Executive
  10. Letter from PLG 17.2.09
  11. Formal response by SQS to SNS 27.2.09
  12. Letter of support from DSK
  13. Second support letter from INQUA 27.2.09
  14. Letter from L. Zöller
  15. Letter from the Geol Soc London 16.3.09
  16. Letter from Geol Soc Stratigraphy Commission 16.3.09
  17. Letter in response to MB Aubrey concerning Tertiary PG 16.3.09

Neogene counter-proposal (submission by SNS)

  1. SNS Neogene proposal
  2. SNS ballot on the SNS proposal
  3. SNS comments on their proposal
  4. SNS comments by P. Smolka
  5. SNS letters of support
  6. SNS_reply to SQS proposal
  7. Support paper 1 Aubry et al 08
  8. Message from Hilgen 12.02.09
  9. MPA Neogene-Quaternary compromise proposal
  10. Hilgen reply to SQS proposal
  11. Message from Kent 13.3.09
  12. Message from M.P. Aubry 14.3.09
  13. Message from Henderson 16.3.09
  14. Correspondence from SNS 26.3.09 (after the voting deadline)

Additional information

  1. IUGS to ICS 2007

Formal ratification letter of base Quaternary and Pleistocene at 2.6 ma.

For further information and correspondence: ICS-INQUA on definition and status of the Quaternary / Pleistocene