Quaternary Geology

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Quaternary Geology


the branch of geology that studies the Quaternary, or Anthropogenic, system and the corresponding period of earth history [seeANTHROPOGENIC SYSTEM (PERIOD)]. The Quaternary period covers the period directly preceding the modern age, and therefore Quaternary geology is closely linked with the scientific disciplines that study the present-day face of the earth and the existing organic world: geomorphology, climatology, soil science, zoology, botany, archaeology, engineering geology, and other disciplines.

Quaternary geology has become an independent scientific discipline owing to a number of special characteristics of its object and methods of investigation and the problems it resolves. In terms of length (600,000 to 3.5 million years according to different estimates), the Quaternary period is not commensurate with other periods of earth history. However, it has been characterized by profound changes in the entire physicogeographic appearance of the earth’s surface as a result of global climatic changes, expressed in the development of several periods of continental glaciation on one-fourth of the land area. The Anthropogenic (or Quaternary) period is the period during which the human race and human society have formed and developed. Information about the early stages of society has been obtained primarily from the remains of material culture.

Quaternary deposits are characterized by certain specific features: universal distribution both on land and in the seas; the predominance of continental deposits on the continents; relatively thin, gently bedded accumulations; loose deposits; and good preservation. Evolutionary changes in the organic world during this short segment of geological history have been minor, which has limited the possibility of using the stratigraphic method to delineate Quaternary beds. Consequently, detailed stratigraphic subdivisions of the Quaternary system are based on climatic data. In addition to the methods of investigation used in geology as a whole, Quaternary geology uses a number of special methods and techniques, including radiocarbon dating, thermoluminescent dating, cryolithological dating, paleomagnetic dating, the geochronological method of studying banded clays, diatom analysis, and paleoanthropological and archaeological methods. Geo-morphological methods and palynological methods (pollen analysis) are especially important.

The foundations of Quaternary geology were laid in the second half of the 19th century and the early 20th century by Russian and Soviet researchers, including P. A Kropotkin, A. P. Pavlov, V. A. Obruchev. G. F. Mirchink, and S. A. Iakovlev, and by a number of foreign scientists, including A. Penck, E. Brückner, P. Woldstedt, R. Flint, and F. Zeuner.

Quaternary geology became an independent scientific discipline in the 1920’s and 1930’s, when groups of specialists working on certain problems of Quaternary geology emerged in the USSR and in such foreign countries as Germany, Sweden, Finland, and the United States. In the USSR, various higher educational institutions began offering courses in Quaternary geology, the Commission for the Study of the Quaternary Period of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR was established (1927), and a methodology for the geological mapping of Quaternary beds was developed.

The International Union for Quaternary Research (INQUA) was founded in 1932.

The principal areas of study in Quaternary geology include biostratigraphy (V. I. Gromov, G. I. Goretskii, K. V. Nikiforova), climatic stratigraphy (S. A. Iakovlev, A. I. Moskvitin, I. I. Krasnov), lithogenesis (E. V. Shantser), geomorphology (A. A. Aseev), and paleogeography (I. P. Gerasimov, K. K. Markov). In addition, problems of neotectonics (N. I. Nikolaev) and “young” volcanism (E. E. Milanovskii) are under study, and methods of mapping Quaternary beds are being developed (G. S. Ganeshin).

The most important research in Quaternary geology is being conducted at the Geological Institute and the Institute of Geography of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Moscow, the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Siberian Division of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR in Novosibirsk, the All-Union Geological Research Institute in Leningrad, and various research institutes in the Baltic republics, Byelorussia, and the Ukraine. Various problems of Quaternary geology are discussed at INQUA congresses and commissions and at international geological and geographic congresses. All-Union and regional meetings are held regularly in the USSR. The Interdepartmental Stratigraphic Committee established a permanent commission on the Quaternary system in 1956 to deal with stratigraphic problems.

Problems of Quaternary geology are discussed in numerous periodical publications, including Biulleten’ kommissii po izucheniiu chetvertichnogo perioda (Bulletin of the Commission for the Study of the Quaternary Period), Doklady AN SSSR (Reports of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR), Izvestiia AN SSSR: Ser-iia geologicheskaia (Proceedings of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR: Geology Series), Izvestiia AN SSSR: Seriia geograficheskaia (Proceedings of the Academy of Science of the USSR: Geography Series), Sovetskaia geologiia (Soviet Geology), Geomorfologiia (Geomorphology), Sovetskaia arkheologiia (Soviet Archaeology), Izvestiia Vsesoiuznogo geograficheskogo obshchestva (Proceedings of the All-Union Geographical Society), Anthropozoikum (Czechoslovakia), Biuletyn Peryglacjalny (Poland), and Eiszeitalter und Gegenwart (Federal Republic of Germany).


Gerasimov, I. P. and K. K. Markov. Chetvertichnaia geologiia (Paleogeografiia chetvertichnogo perioda). Moscow, 1939.
Gromov, V. I. Paleontologicheskoe i arkheologicheskoe obosnovanie stratigrafii kontinental’nykh otlozhenii chetvertichnogo perioda na territorii SSSR. Moscow, 1948.
Markov, K. K., G. I. Lazukov, and V. A. Nikolaev. Chetvertichnyi period, vols. 1–3. Moscow, 1965–67.
Flint, R. F. Ledniki i paleogeografiia pleistotsena. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from English.)
Zeuner, F. Pleistotsen. Moscow, 1963. (Translated from English.)
Woldstedt, P. Das Eiszeitalter, 2nd ed., vols. 1–3. Stuttgart, 1954–65.


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