What is the Quaternary?
The Quaternary is the last 2.6 million years of Earth history. It is marked by the presence of large ice-sheets in the northern hemisphere, which expand when climate is cold (glacials) and retreat when climate warms (interglacials). We are currently in the Holocene interglacial which began about 10,000 years ago.
It is important to understand the Quaternary climate system because changes in global climate that have occurred during this period offer important insights into how and why the climate changes and how different parts of the climate system can respond (e.g. ocean currents, atmospheric circulation, vegetation change, glacier movements). It is also the time interval during which humans and their civilisations evolved, which may have been driven by environmental changes that we are able to record.
Quaternary Science is therefore multi-disciplinary in its approach: geographers, geologists, archaeologists, botanists, chemists, physicists (and more) come together to address fundamental questions about how our Earth behaves.