Quaternary (geology)

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< Neogen | Q uartary
2.588 million years ago until today
Atmospheric O 2 share
(average over period)
approx. 20.9% by volume
(current level)
Atmospheric CO 2 share
(average over period)
260 ppm
(approx. 65% current level)
Floor temperature (average over period) approx. 11 ° C
(3 ° C below today's level)
system series step ≈  age  ( mya )
quaternary Holocene Meghalayum 0

Pleistocene Young Pleistocene

Middle Pleistocene

Calabrium 0.781

Gelasium 1,806

deeper deeper deeper older

The Quaternary is the most recent period in Earth's history, including the Holocene and thus the present. The science involved in studying the Quaternary is Quaternary .

In historical geology , the Quaternary represents a chronostratigraphic system or a geochronological period. It started about 2.6 million years ago and continues to this day. It covers the entire Quaternary Ice Age , in which the hominization of modern humans also took place.

After Antarctica had already been glaciated for a long time , glaciations also occurred in the northern hemisphere at the beginning of the Gelasium . The beginning of this glaciation period, which continues to this day with an alternation of cold and warm periods , is viewed by geologists as a suitable delimitation of the Quaternary from the previous period of the Neogene . Before that, the line between " Tertiary " and Quaternary was drawn 1.806 million years ago. Because of the relatively short duration of the Quaternary according to geological standards and its different development in the marine and continental areas, a conclusive delimitation from the previous period was not possible or only with difficulty; the border to the tertiary was disputed. This even led to the deletion of the terms tertiary and quaternary from the geological time scale in 2004 .

In 2005, the efforts of the various associations for Quaternary geology were successful to at least give the term Quaternary a place in stratigraphy. But it took more years of discussion before the decision to reintroduce the Quaternary into the geological timescale was decided. The Quaternary now follows the periods of the Paleogene and the Neogene within the Cenozoic (Earth Modern Age) . In this sense, it is defined by the chronostratigraphic level of the Gelasium as its lowest unit and begins 2.588 million years before the present. This enabled a better delimitation to the previous periods. The entire time span of the ice age climatic fluctuations of the earth could now be summarized under the term Quaternary.

At the same time, the Pleistocene , the older Quaternary epoch, was also extended to include the Gelasian, and thereby the Pliocene , the most recent epoch of the Neogene, was shortened by the same period. The Pleistocene is followed within the Quaternary by the Holocene , climatically speaking a warm period within the Ice Age, which covers the last 11,700 years until today. There is discussion about calling the most recent section with a clear human influence the “ Anthropocene ”.

Origin of the term

The term "Quaternary" was used in the literature by Giovanni Arduino as early as 1760 when he distinguished four successive groups of layers: primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary. In 1829 Jules Desnoyers revisited the term to refer to sediments in the Loire Basin and other parts of France that were significantly younger than the Tertiary deposits. But he also assigned strata to the Quaternary, which are now assigned to the Tertiary. Often Adolf von Morlot (1854) is also associated with the introduction of the term, as it is from him that the connection to the Ice Age comes. The Quaternary strata were very thick in certain basin locations, but geologically only of a short age. This led to a very unbalanced subdivision of the Earth's Modern Age ( Cenozoic ) into the Tertiary, which lasted 63.7 million years and the Quaternary, which lasted only 1.6 million years. When the geological time scale was redefined (GTS 2004), this imbalance led to the replacement of the terms tertiary and quaternary by the terms paleogene and neogene with new stratigraphic boundaries and meanings. However, these limits were revised in the International Stratigraphic Chart of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) from 2008 without anticipating a final resolution. The final ratification by the ICS took place on June 30, 2009. Based on this decision, the Quaternary with the base of the Gelasian (2.58 million years ago) and its reference profile on Monte San Nicola near the eponymous city of Gela in Sicily is determined.


The Quaternary is divided as follows:



  • Josef Klostermann: The Climate in the Ice Age. 2nd edition Schweizerbart, Stuttgart 2009, ISBN 978-3-510-65248-8 .
  • Hansjürgen Müller-Beck: The Ice Ages. Natural history and human history. Munich 2005, ISBN 3-406-50863-4 (brief introduction from the Beck series).
  • Edmund Blair Bolles: Ice Age. How a professor, a politician and a poet discovered the eternal ice. Berlin 2000, ISBN 3-87024-522-0 (on the history of research, in particular Louis Agassiz , Charles Lyell and Elisha Kent Kane ).
  • Albert Schreiner : Introduction to Quaternary Geology. 2nd edition Schweizerbart, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-510-65152-9 .
  • Leopold Benda (ed.): The Quaternary of Germany. Borntraeger, Berlin 1995.
  • Jürgen Ehlers : General and historical Quaternary geology. Enke, Stuttgart 1994.
  • John A. Catt: Applied Quaternary Geology. Enke, Stuttgart 1992.

Trade journals

Technical article

  • Brad Pillans, Tim Naish: Defining the Quaternary. Quaternary Science Reviews, 23, pp. 2271-2282, Oxford 2004 ISSN  0277-3791 .
  • Wighart von Königswald : The Quaternary: Climate and Wildlife in the Ice Age of Central Europe . In: Biology in our time 34 (3/2004), pp. 151-158, ISSN  0045-205X .
  • Frank Preusser: Approach in the Quaternary Controversy. In: Geoscientific Communications (GMIT), Bonn 2007, ISSN  1616-3931
  • Berger et al. (1994) The Quaternary Climate. Earth sciences; 12, 9; 258-266; doi : 10.2312 / geosciences . 1994.12.258 .

Web links

Commons : Quaternary  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Oxygen content-1000mj
  2. Phanerozoic Carbon Dioxide
  3. All palaeotemps
  4. Brief description of various aspects of this demarcation, see International Commission on Stratigraphy Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (English; PDF; 93 kB).
  5. Classification according to Arduino (English).
  6. Marianne Klemun: Questions of periodization and Adolphe von Morlot's contribution to the term and the concept Quarternär (1854), in: RH Grapes, DH Oldroyd, A. Grigelis (ed.), History of Geomorphology and Quaternary Geology , Geological Society Special Publication 301, London 2008, pp. 19-32 (English).
  7. International Stratigraphic Chart from 2008 (English; PDF). Template: dead link /! ... nourl ( Page no longer available )
  8. Final ratification on Stratigraphy.org. Template: dead link /! ... nourl ( Page no longer available )
  9. ^ Gibbard, PL, Head, MJ, Walker, MJC and the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy. (2010) Formal ratification of the Quaternary System / Period and the Pleistocene Series / Epoch with a base at 2.58 Ma. J. Quaternary Sci., Vol. 25 pp. 96–102, online: abstract and article (2.588 and 2.58 Mya; English).