• Martin J. Aitken
  • Stephen Stokes
Part of the Advances in Archaeological and Museum Science book series (AAMS, volume 2)


The initial framework for global Quaternary climate change and climatostratigraphy was that based on the advance and retreat of alpine glaciers. Subsequently, this was supplemented by observation of such climatic indicators as fossil pollen, varves and loess. In recent decades, knowledge of past climate has been revolutionised by measurement of the oxygen isotope ratios of fossil microfauna in cores extracted from sediment on the floor of the deep ocean and detailed analysis of physical properties of continuous loess sequences and polar ice cores. The oxygen isotopic variations observed in ocean cores define the major global warm-cold transitions which characterise the glacial and interglacial stages (the basic climatostratigraphic units). An absolute timescale for the climatic variations is derived from the Milankovitch astronomical theory of climate. Isotopic and other variations on higher resolution timescales have been obtained for the last glacial-interglacial cycle from the polar ice caps and some deep sea cores. It is increasingly being realised that the frequently rapid climatic shifts between glacial stadial and interstadial sub-stages are more pronounced than had previously been thought. There is growing indication that the climatic predictions from ice core and oceanic sources are manifested terrestrially by climatic indicators such as those mentioned above, thereby allowing linkage of Palaeolithic chronology with the timescales used. Climate changes during the Quaternary period exhibit global synchroneity on millennial and longer timescales. On multimillennial (> 10 ka) timescales, they are principally controlled by the solar radiation budget. On shorter (millennial and sub-millennial) timescales, the changes are likely to be modulated to a large extent by changing ocean circulation patterns and interactions between the oceans, the cryosphere and the atmosphere. Fine resolution analysis of ice core climatic proxies have demonstrated that late Quaternary climatic changes have occurred, on occasions, on timescales of relevance to human activities, sometimes as short as decades.


Oxygen Isotope Glacial Period Marine Isotope Stage Oxygen Isotope Ratio Quaternary Science Review 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 1997

Authors and Affiliations

  • Martin J. Aitken
    • 1
  • Stephen Stokes
    • 2
  1. 1.Research Laboratory for ArchaeologyOxford UniversityUK
  2. 2.School of GeographyOxford UniversityUK

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