Societal relevance of Quaternary research

Scott Elias

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In every aspect of environmental science (the atmosphere, the oceans, the cryosphere, the lithosphere, or the biosphere), it is impossible to fully comprehend modern processes and conditions without a knowledge of the past. The Quaternary period saw huge climatic oscillations. Studying these changes provides us with a long-term framework in which to investigate modern climatic variability. Modern global warming may bring about the melting of polar ice caps, higher sea levels, coastal erosion, and other problems affecting large numbers of people. Most of these phenomena have not been seen in recorded history, but the Quaternary record contains many examples. Quaternary data are vital in efforts to model future environments. They are also key elements in determining recurrence rates for such geologic hazards as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Quaternary fossil evidence points to a large-scale extinction event at the end of the last Ice Age. The current extinction of species may be on an even larger scale, as natural habitats are altered or destroyed. Our own species ‘came of age’ in the late Pleistocene; Homo sapiens and their immediate ancestors were all shaped by Quaternary environments.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEncyclopedia of Quaternary Science
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)978-0-444-53642-6
Publication statusPublished - 15 Apr 2013


  • Coastal erosion; Earthquakes; Global warming; Marine ecosystems; Modern biodiversity; Pleistocene megafaunal extinction; Polar ice caps; Quaternary climate; Sea level rise; Soil degradation; Thermohaline circulation; Tsunamis; Volcanic eruptions

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