The (mis)conception of average Quaternary conditions Quaternary Research

Matteo Spagnolo* (Corresponding Author), Brice Rea, Iestyn D. Barr

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The concept of Quaternary average conditions has gained popularity over the past few decades, especially with studies of long-term landscape evolution. In this paper, we critically assess this concept by analysing the marine isotope record (LR04 δ18O stack) relative to the Quaternary. This shows that the frequency and amplitude of climate glacial-interglacial cycles are not constant throughout the Quaternary, with a clear change during the Middle Pleistocene Transition (MPT), and that many minor oscillations exist within each cycle. For this reason, the identification of pre- and post-MPT most frequent, and cumulatively longest-lasting, (rather than average) conditions is recommended. The most frequent pre-MPT δ18O value of 3.725 ± 0.025‰ last occurred 11.31-11.47 ka BP, while the most frequent post-MPT δ18O value of 4.475 ± 0.025‰ last occurred 14.81-15.04 ka BP. However, many other δ18O values were almost as frequent throughout the Quaternary and we present geomorphological reasons as to why it is unlikely that the present-day landscape reflects Quaternary average or indeed most frequent conditions. Collectively, our results indicate that extreme caution should be taken when attempting to infer long-term landscape evolution processes (including the buzzsaw hypothesis) based on average Quaternary conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)235–240
Number of pages6
JournalQuaternary Research
Early online date18 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • Quaternary climate
  • Quaternary landscape evolution
  • average Quaternary conditions
  • marine isotope record
  • palaeoglaciology
  • palaeoclimatology
  • geomorphology
  • glacial buzzsaw


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