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From Morphostratigraphy to Chronostratigraphy – Modern Quaternary Geomorphology as a Basic for Climatic Research

Margot Böse
p. 303-306
Traduction(s) :
De la morphostratigraphie à la chronostratigraphie. La géomorphologie quaternaire moderne comme fondement aux recherches sur le climat

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1In preparation for the Congress of the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG) in Paris 2013, our French colleagues discussed session proposals with their colleagues from other countries. Hanna Bremer, the internationally renowned geomorphologist from Germany, was informally involved in the discussion – and she proposed a session with Quaternary aspects; I got involved as geomorphologist and president of the German Quaternary Association (DEUQUA) at that time. We were still developing the idea when Hanna Bremer unexpectedly passed away in January 2013 – and I took over the planning. I dedicate this volume to Hanna Bremer, the outstanding German geomorphologist and the original spiritus rector of this session 10, Quaternary Geomorphology, in Paris.

2Quaternary Geomorphology comprises the challenge of interpretation of landforms and sediments which derive from various processes in very differing time spans, dimensions and extents.

3The onset of geomorphology was characterized by the description and systematization of landforms, resulting in a relative morphostratigraphical order of neighbouring topographical landforms. With the acceptance of climatic changes in the 19th century – rapidly evolving for the Quaternary owing to the recognition of alterations of glaciations and warm phases – stratigraphy of the sediments and morphostratigraphy of the landforms complemented each other, for example in formerly glaciated and other accumulation areas.

4Several paradigms have influenced geomorphological research in the past. One of the early ideas are the Geographical Cycles according to William Morris Davis (1899) – some of the idea is still vivid in the geomorphology related to geological sciences, dedicated to the reconstruction of surface erosion over long geological cycles. Another one is the Climatic Geomorphology according to Julius Büdel (1977), explaining various landforms associated with or originating from different climates.

5Geomorphological research then changed from description and classification to a dynamic approach including tectonics and climatic changes and distinguishing comprehensive processes. The processes themselves came into the focus including the quantification of different physical and chemical parameters and of the sediment budget.

6Modern geomorphology is closely linked with developing research topics such as advanced knowledge about climatic changes and new methods in geochronology as well as the application of quantitative methods. Research on previous climatic changes has gained new impulses from analyses on ice cores in both polar regions and sediments from deep sea core drillings, while terrestrial research has been refined by various new methods and high resolution analyses techniques opening new archives such as soils and semiterrestrial accumulation areas.

7In addition, increasingly detailed knowledge of terrestrial and perimarine environments enhances the possibility to distinguish between natural, climate-driven processes, including events, and the Holocene human impact on the landscape.

8The increasing amount of physical and chemical methods for dating offered and offers a new dimension which is still a challenge: besides the problem to find and apply the appropriate method for the research subject it also gives the opportunity to compare the results of different archives on a common timescale, and also supports long-distance correlations. The data of climate variations on geomorphological processes in local, regional and global scales can therefore contribute to climate reconstructions in each scale (fig. 1).

Fig. 1 – Process chart of research in Quaternary Geomorphology.

Fig. 1 – Process chart of research in Quaternary Geomorphology.

9For example, our knowledge about the time-transgressive formation of glacigenic geomorphological features of the European Weichselian ice sheets which were formerly thought to be of the same age (Böse et al., 2012,) is a result of dating, thus transforming a static model into a dynamic one.

10On the other hand we have learnt much more about short, catastrophic events which shaped the surface regionally almost in no (geological) time.

11As Quaternary research comprises various research approaches, including geomorphology, and nowadays offers a number of proxy data for climatic research of the past, it is indispensable for deciphering climate driven processes of the past. Understanding the past makes possible to develop models for the future – including climatic impact on the terrestrial surface. One major issue at present may be the relation between global, regional and local effects of climate changes and varying, previously often very local human impact.

12This volume comprises four contributions from three continents but also from different archives.

13The paper of Scapozza, Castelletti, Soma, Dall’Agnolo and Ambrosi contributes in a classical way to insights into glacial morphology in the southern Alps. The timing of the Last Glacial Maximum in Southern Switzerland as well as the landscape features of the following Late Glacial stadials can be traced by chronological data and therefore be compared to data from other parts of the Alps. The results contribute to the reconstruction on the maximum alpine ice advances and the climate induced deglaciation processes including the stadials, also well defined by morphological features. The correlation of the morphological features in the study area with observations in other parts of the Alps is only possible by means of geochronological radiocarbon data.

14A completely different archive has been studied by Mazurek, Dobrowolski and Osadowski in Poland. Two peat bogs in Pomerania, belonging to the Weichselian young drift area, developed after the deglaciation, though the onset of the development is not synchronous. The geochemical results from two peat bogs give data for the Late Glacial to the Holocene. The locally and regionally varying conditions for the tufa-peat sequences are probably forced by different ground water conditions, climatic variations and vegetation changes in the area thus resulting in different spring feeding and chemical depletion in the nearby sediments. Uncalibrated radiocarbon ages constrain the timeframe of the depositional phases.

15The contribution of Orkhonselenge, Krivonogov, Mino, Kashiwaya, Yamamoto, and Nakamura is based on a drilling core in Lake Khuvsgul in Mongolia to reconstruct lake level changes. The results of the sedimentation rates are linked with geomorphological studies in the drainage basin such like valley forms, beach ridges and spits, and alluvial fans. Changes in permafrost also influenced the lake evolution. The time frame is constrained by radiocarbon data. As there are other publications about neighbouring lakes in Mongolia the data can be compared with those results and give evidence of climate changes and the resulting processes in the drainage basin.

16The paper of Augustin, Coe, Chueng and Gomes is related to an old quartzite land surface with escarpments and plains in Brazil. The soil and sediments above the weathering subsurface contain phytolithes in different stages of preservation thus giving information about transport and/or in situ weathering processes as well as about the former vegetation and the palaeoenvironment. Downslope transport of the regolith versus intense in situ weathering is discussed as well as the morphological implication for the development of the tropical relief. The processes presented here are placed into the Holocene by means of radiocarbon dating.

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Böse M., Lüthgen C., Lee J.R., Rose J. (2012)Quaternary glaciations of northern Europe. Quaternary Science Reviews 44, 1-25.

Büdel J. (1977)Klima-Geomorphologie. Bornträger, Berlin-Stuttgart, 304 S. (2. Auflage 1981).

Davis W. M. (1899) – The geographical cycle. Geographical Journal 14, S. 481-504.

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Titre Fig. 1 – Process chart of research in Quaternary Geomorphology.
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Margot Böse, « From Morphostratigraphy to Chronostratigraphy – Modern Quaternary Geomorphology as a Basic for Climatic Research », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement, vol. 20 - n° 4 | 2014, 303-306.

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Margot Böse, « From Morphostratigraphy to Chronostratigraphy – Modern Quaternary Geomorphology as a Basic for Climatic Research », Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement [En ligne], vol. 20 - n° 4 | 2014, mis en ligne le 22 janvier 2015, consulté le 26 mars 2017. URL :

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Margot Böse

Freie Universität Berlin – Department of Geographical Sciences – Malteserstr. 74-100 – D-12249 Berlin – Germany (

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