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The (mis)conception of average Quaternary conditions

Spagnolo, Matteo and Rea, Brice R and Barr, Iestyn (2021) The (mis)conception of average Quaternary conditions. Quaternary Research. pp. 1-6. ISSN 0033-5894

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Abstract

Abstract 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 analyzing 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 during 11.31–11.47 ka, while the most-frequent post-MPT δ18O value of 4.475 ± 0.025‰ last occurred during 14.81–15.04 ka. 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.

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