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Quaternary Research Center

Program Overview

19 Johnson

Quaternary studies focus on the processes that presently shape the natural environment and have operated over approximately the past two and a half million years (Quaternary period). A knowledge of Quaternary events facilitates an understanding of earth history in relation to the modern environment and has predictive value with regard to present-day and future environmental changes.

Quaternary research is typically interdisciplinary, and thus it commonly involves related interests of two or more academic units. The Quaternary Research Center was established in 1967 to foster such interdisciplinary studies on a cooperative basis.

The center has the following goals:

  1. To understand environments and climate changes of the past two and a half million years in the context of modern surface processes, which include historical changes, prehistoric postglacial environments, and Ice Age events.
  2. To serve as a catalyst in fostering interdisciplinary studies in the fields of atmospheric sciences, archaeology/anthropology, botany, engineering, fisheries, forestry, geology, geophysics, oceanography, pedology, and zoology.
  3. To provide a scientific perspective on the scale of modern and man-made environmental changes, including climate changes, in the context of recent earth history.
  4. To conduct a curriculum jointly with other disciplines in the training of graduate students in Quaternary-oriented studies.
  5. To seek applications of quaternary studies to modern environmental problems that help predict consequences of policy decisions.

Graduate Program

Students associated with the center obtain their degrees through cooperating departments. Students interested in graduate work at the center should apply to the department of their choice but plan to do their research in a Quaternary-related subject.

Research Facilities

The research laboratories of the center provide an array of modern facilities for investigation of Quaternary problems.

QRC Resource Center

This specialized collection, dealing with a wide range of Quaternary topics, is among the most extensive in North America. It includes books, monographs, theses, journals, and maps, and houses a large, diverse reprint collection. Searches for library material can be conducted via the QRC web page.

Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory
John Stone, Director

The UW Cosmogenic Nuclide Laboratory analyses rare radionuclides produced by cosmic ray bombardment of the Earth's surface. These nuclides are useful for surface exposure dating and the study of geomorphic rates and processes. Current projects include work on Quaternary glaciations of Antarctica, Europe, and North America; dating of landslides and volcanic eruptions; and studies of erosion in both tectonically active and ancient, stable landscapes. The laboratory has sample preparation facilities and clean labs for extraction of Al-26, Be-10, and Cl-36. For additional information, visit the laboratory's website.

Geochemistry Library
Ronald S. Sletten, director

The Geochemistry Library conducts analyses of natural waters, soil, and sediment. Instrumentation includes ICP-OES, ICP-MS, laser diffraction particle size analyzer, and total organic/inorganic carbon analyzer for water samples. The library also conducts C-13 CP-MAS-NMR for natural organic and pulsed field gradient PFG-NMR for diffusion studies of water in porous media. The primary research foci are weathering, elemental cycling, and studies of permafrost soils. Current projects include investigation of biocomplexity of carbon cycling in Arctic soils in Greenland and physicochemical soil processes in Antarctica and Alaska.

Periglacial Laboratory
Bernard Hallet, Director

Research in the Periglacial Laboratory focuses on diverse processes at the interface between glaciology and geomorphology that are fundamental to understanding landscapes and soils in alpine and polar regions. Founded by Link Washburn, the laboratory has a long history of experimental research on periglacial processes with special attention given to the complex phenomena associated with freezing soils and rocks. Recently the lab has also served as a base of support for extensive field work involving electronic instrumentation to monitor surface processes in the Arctic, Antarctica, the Himalayas, southeast Tibet, and other regions across the globe.

Stable Isotope Laboratory
Eric J. Steig, Director

The Stable Isotope Laboratory is the main center for stable isotope studies for the QRC. The current emphasis in the laboratory is the development of high-resolution climate records covering the last ten millennia, from ice cores in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland, and Antarctica. Facilities in the laboratory include off-line and online preparation systems for D/H and 18)/16O on water 13C12C on carbonates and organic materials, and 15N/14N on nitrate and organics. Additional information, data, and other resources are available via the laboratory's website.