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by, Mike Walker, John Lowe & Wim Hoek

Mike Walker, John Lowe, and Wim Hoek, who all have played key roles in INTIMATE over the years, have written this account of the development of the INTIMATE idea from the early nineties until today.

{jkefel kefelui=[sliders] title=[1991-1995]}

The North Atlantic Seaboard Programme (NASP: 1991-1995)

INTIMATE evolved from the North Atlantic Seaboard Programme (NASP) which began in 1991. The aim of NASP was to reconstruct the sequence of environmental changes around the North Atlantic over the period 14-9 k 14C yr BP. The focus was on terrestrial proxy records (pollen, plant macrofossils, coleoptera, stable isotopes, etc). At the inaugural International Workshop held in London in April 1991, twelve regional study groups were established, six from Europe (SW Europe, NW Europe, Switzerland, southern Sweden/Denmark, Norway, and Iceland) and six from the eastern seaboard of North America (Baffin/Labrador, Quebec, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and New England). Their remit was to synthesise the available information from these regions and to compile the various records in 500 yr time-slices over the course of the transition from the last cold stage to the onset of the Holocene. John Lowe was appointed Overall Co-ordinator of the NASP programme, with Mike Walker co-ordinating the European Study Groups and Les Cwynar the North American Study Groups.

Fig 1. NASP 1991028Inaugural Workshop of NASP, London, 1991

The data-sets generated by the study groups were discussed and refined at subsequent workshops in Reykjavik, Iceland (1992), Karlshamn, Sweden (1993) and Amsterdam and De Lutte, The Netherlands (1994), and there was a NASP Symposium at the 8th International Palynological Congress at Aix-en-Provence, France, in September 1992 (Walker & Lowe, 1993). In 1992, NASP became a constituent Working Group (WG 4) of the International Geological Correlation Programme (IGCP-253) project ‘Termination of The Pleistocene’ (1989-1994) co-ordinated by Jan Lundqvist and Matti Saarnisto.

Fig 2. SvanteJPG
Svante Bjorck pointing to the ‘Pre-boreal  oscillation’ in a core taken during the Karlshamn Meeting, 1993

The results of the NASP programme were published in a Special Issue of Journal of Quaternary Science (1994), edited by John Lowe. This contained compilations from the twelve regions plus an overview in the form of a series of palaeogeographical maps showing the sequence of climatic changes around the North Atlantic during the Lateglacial and early Holocene (Lowe et al., 1994).  Details of the NASP programme were also published in a Special Issue of Quaternary International, edited by Jan Lundqvist, Matti Saarnisto and Nat Rutter (Lowe & NASP Members, 1995)

During the course of NASP, a number of important developments occurred. A new radiocarbon calibration (CALIB 3.0) was published (Radiocarbon, 1993, 1); tephra horizons were increasingly being used as chronostratigraphic event markers; there were important new Greenland ice-core records from GRIP and GISP2; and quantified palaeo-oceanographic data were beginning to emerge from different sectors of the North Atlantic (Walker, 1995). In response to these various initiatives,  ice-core geophysicist Jorgen-Peder Steffensen, and marine scientists Gerard Bond and Chris Charles, were invited to join the NASP programme at the 1994 Workshop in The Netherlands. This proved to be the first step in a new international, interdisciplinary collaboration which led to the the final NASP-sponsored Symposium at the XIVth INQUA Congress in Berlin: ‘Integration of terrestrial, offshore and ice-core data for high-resolution modelling of the North Atlantic during the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition’.


{jkefel title=[1995-2009]}

INTIMATE 1995 to 2009

At a Workshop Session following the NASP Symposium, the INTIMATE programme was formally established, with John Lowe as Project Co-ordinator and Mike Walker as Secretary. INTIMATE was designed to encourage collaboration between the ice-core, marine and terrestrial communities that had begun during the later stages of the NASP programme, and to integrate the increasing number of high-resolution proxy climate records from the Last Termination that were becoming available from different parts of the North Atlantic realm. The aim was also to underpin the proxy records for climate change with high-resolution chronologies, and to correlate key events in order to determine leads and lags in the climate system during the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition (LGIT).  

Organisation of INTIMATE 1995-2009

INTIMATE was organised through a Secretariat involving the Co-ordinator, Secretary, and a Steering Group. The Co-ordinators have been John Lowe (1995-2003), Wim Hoek (2003-2008) and Chris Turney (2008-2010). The Secretary’s position has been held by Mike Walker (1995-1999), Wim Hoek (1999-2003), and Zicheng Yu (2003-2008). The first Steering Group was appointed at the Hoor Workshop in 1997 (see below), and was composed of John Lowe and Mike Walker (ex-officio), Sigfus Johnsen (ice core community), Karen-Luise Knudsen (marine community), Svante Bjorck and Barbara Wohlfarth (terrestrial community: Europe) and Les Cwynar (terrestrial community: North America). In 2003 following the Reno Workshop at the XVIth INQUA Congress, and in response to the expanded remit of INTIMATE (see below), a new Steering Group was appointed, with Wim Hoek and Zicheng Yu as ex-officio members, seven regional co-ordinators (Svante Bjorck - Northern Europe; Thomas Litt - Central Europe; Sjoerd Bohncke - Western Europe; Blas Valero-Garces - Southern Europe; Les Cwynar - North American Atlantic Seaboard; Fabienne Marret - African Atlantic Seaboard; Karen-Luise Knudsen -Northern Atlantic/GIN Seas; Gerard Bond – Atlantic Marine Records; Sigfus Johnsen and Jorgen-Peder Steffensen – Ice-core Records (GRIP); Pieter Grootes; Ice-core records (GISP2); Bernd Kromer - Radiocarbon calibration; Siwan Davies - Tephrochonrology; and Hans Renssen - Palaeoclimatic modelling. Sadly Gerard Bond passed away on 29th June 2005. He had been active in INTIMATE since the start of the project, was a keynote speaker at the INTIMATE Symposium in Durban in 1999, and attended several INTIMATE Workshops. His death was a great loss to Quaternary science.

Fig 3. Sigfus, Barbara etc at HoorThe INTIMATE Steering Group, Hoor, Sweden, 1997. Left to right: Sigfus Johnsen, John Lowe, Barbara Wohlfarth, Karen-Luise Knudsen, Svante Bjorck and Mike Walker; inset, Les Cwynar.

Workshops and Symposia, 1995-2009

Following the inaugural meeting in Berlin, a series of Workshops and Symposia have been held during which the aims of the programme have been discussed and further developed. There have been nine International Workshops:

Hoor, Sweden, October, 1997, convened by Svante Bjorck, Karen-Luise Knudsen, Sigfus Johnsen and Barbara Wohlfarth. The theme of the meeting was the subdivision and chronology of the Last Termination in relation to the ice-core record, and the meeting was attended by 49 scientists from 13 countries.

Fredericton, Canada, August, 1998, convened by Les Cwynar and attended by more than 30 scientists. This meeting reviewed a range of data-sets from the last-interglacial transition from both western Europe and eastern North America.

Fig 4. Les Cwynar.KillarneyLes Cwynar with a core from Killarney Lake during the fieldtrip associated with the New Brunswick Workshop, 1998

Fig 5. Wim, Mike and JohnJohn Lowe, Mike Walker and Wim Hoek at the INQUA Congress in Durban, South Africa, 1999

Kangerlussuaq, Greenland, August, 2000, convened by Ole Bennike and Jorgen-Peder Steffensen and attended by 31 INTIMATE project members from 9 countries. The themes of the meeting were the standardisation of procedures for the calibration and publication of radiocarbon dates, and comparisons of datasets from the Last Termination on a common (calendar) timescale

Fig 6. Kanger00Participants in the Kangerlussuaq Workshop on the Greenland ice sheet

Tromso, Norway, June, 2002, convened by Nalan Koc, Morten Hald and Torre Vorren, and attended by 36 INTIMATE project members from 12 countries. Discussion at the workshop centred on improving the reliability of correlation between marine, terrestrial and ice-core sequences.

Fig 7. Tromso jpgPre-Workshop dinner drinks at the ‘Midnight Sun Workshop’, Tromso

Reno, Nevada, July, 2003, organised by Wim Hoek. The workshop, which was  held at the XVth INQUA Congress, was attended by 33 scientists from 14 countries, considered the question of whether climatic oscillations during the Last Termination were globally synchronous.

Bonn, Germany, 2004, convened by Thomas Litt. The meeting reviewed new data from a range of proxy records, discussed recent developments in the chronology of the Last Termination, and considered proposals for future meetings and associated research agendas. The workshop was attended by 38 participants from 12 countries.

Fig 8. Bonn fieldtripHans-Ulrich Schmincke explains the stratigraphy at the type locality of the Laacher See Tephra (Wingertsberg)
on a field excursion during the Bonn Workshop

Myraldur, Iceland, September, 2005, organised by Jon Eiriksson, Arny Sveinbjornsdottir, Olafur Ingolfsson and Sigfus Johnsen. Discussion centred on new records from the North Atlantic region, on geochronology, and on correlation. The meeting was attended by 28 scientists from 8 countries.

 Fig 9. Myraldur, IcelandParticipants in the Myraldur Workshop, Iceland, 2005

Cairns, Australia, August 2007, held at the XIVth INQUA Congress, convened by Wim Hoek, and attended by representatives from both Hemispheres.

Oxford, UK, September, 2008, organised by Simon Blockley, Chris Bronk Ramsey and Christine Lane, along with colleagues from the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art in Oxford (Peter Ditchfield, Anna Oh and Richard Staff). The workshop reviewed recent developments in dating and high-precision correlation, and considered future directions for INTIMATE, including a proposed application to the EU COST Action Programme.

Fig 10. OxfordParticipants in the Oxford Workshop, 2008

In addition to the Workshops, INTIMATE-sponsored Symposia and Poster Sessions have been organised at the INQUA Congresses in Durban (1999), Reno (2003), and Cairns (2007), and at the annual European Geoscience Union (EGU) General Assembly in Vienna (2008).

Developments in the INTIMATE programme

Although the original aims of INTIMATE remain largely unchanged, there have been important developments within the programme. Following on from NASP, INTIMATE focussed initially on the North Atlantic realm but, after discussions at the Durban INQUA, it was agreed to expand the geographical coverage to include the South Atlantic and Mediterranean regions. At the Tromso Workshop, the decision was taken to expand the remit further and to adopt a global perspective. This opened the way to the establishment of the first Southern Hemisphere INTIMATE Group in Australasia (OZ INTIMATE) in 2004 (Turney et al., 2006a). Rewi Newnham was appointed overall Co-ordinator, with Jamie Shulmeister responsible for the New Zealand sub-group and Simon Haberle for the Australia sub-group. Since the establishment of OZ INTIMATE, six Workshops have been held (Sydney, 2004; Wellington, 2004, 2005; Auckland, 2006; Sydney 2009; and Stradbroke Island, Queensland, 2010).

In addition to expanding the geographical coverage of INTIMATE, the temporal range of the programme has also been increased. The initial focus of the programme was on the Last Termination (sensu lato), broadly between 18 and 8 ka BP. At the Tromso Workshop (2002), it was agreed that the remit of INTIMATE should be extended to cover the interval 30-8 ka BP and, at the Oxford Workshop (2008), the decision was taken to extend this even further, back to 60 ka BP to reflect the time period covered by the new high-resolution GICC05 chronology from the GRIP and NGRIP ice cores, and the extension of the range of radiocarbon calibration (INTCAL09).  

Links with international research groups and organisations

INQUA (International Union for Quaternary Research): INTIMATE was formally accepted as a Working Group of the INQUA Palaeoclimate Commission in Durban (1999) and re-affirmed as such at the Reno Congress in 2003. As noted above, INTIMATE-sponsored symposia were held at these two meetings, and also at the INQUA Congress in Cairns (2007). INTIMATE received financial support from INQUA during the 1999-2003, and 2003-2007 inter-Congress periods. Following reorganisations within the structures of INQUA, in 2007 INTIMATE became an ‘International Focus Group’ of the Palaeoclimate Commission, with the North Atlantic and Australasian INTIMATE Groups designated as separate ‘Research Projects’. Both projects received further financial support from INQUA during the 2007-2011 inter-Congress period.

PAGES (Past Global Changes: IGBP): In 2001, formal links were established between INTIMATE and the PAGES PEP (Pole-Equator-Pole) Programme. INTIMATE was represented at the PAGES International Meetings in London (John  Lowe) and Aix-en Provence (Wim Hoek), and Jef Vandenberghe and John Lowe were responsible for INTIMATE’s contribution (Vandenberghe et al., 2004) to the major PAGES synthetic volume dedicated to PEP III (the transect through Europe and Africa; Battarbee et al., 2004).

Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS): At the 2004 Workshop in Bonn, it was agreed that INTIMATE should respond to an invitation from the SQS (a subcommission of the International Commission on Stratigraphy: ICS) to form a Joint Working Group to define the stratotype for the base of the Holocene in the Greenland NGRIP ice core. The Working Group involved 19 scientists from 10 countries under the chairmanship of Mike Walker, and the outcome of the Group’s deliberations are described below.

Principal achievements of INTIMATE 1995-2009

An event stratigraphy for the North Atlantic region: The formulation of an event stratigraphy for the North Atlantic region based on the oxygen isotope signal in the GRIP ice core was the principal outcome of discussions at the Hoor Workshop in 1997. This approach was initially suggested by the late Sir Nick Shackleton, who was a participant in the Hoor Workshop. The isotopic profile spanning the time interval 23-11 ka BP was divided into a series of stadials and interstadials and sub-stadials/sub-interstadials, which formed a stratigraphic template for the sequence of climatic changes that occurred during the Last Termination in Greenland and adjacent areas of the North Atlantic. Details can be found in Bjorck et al. (1998) and Walker et al. (1999). This scheme has since been widely adopted and the terminology is now routinely employed throughout the North Atlantic province.

fig 11. event stratigraphy
The INTIMATE event stratigraphy for the Last Termination (after Bjorck et al., 1998).

Protocols for ice-ocean-land correlation: These were first discussed at the Kangerlussuaq Workshop in 2000. They involved (a) recommendations for the use of 14C dates and for the derivation of reliable age estimates based on 14C (including issues of site selection; the provision of contextual information on 14C dates; the use of calibration programmes; wiggle matching to the 14C calibration curve; and the use of Bayesian and other statistical methods); (b) the use of an event-stratigraphic approach in inter-regional correlations; and (c) the employment of time-parallel markers horizons based on tephras, δ18O stratigraphy, and palaeomagnetic signals (Lowe et al., 2001). Further discussion of these issues at the Tromso, Bonn and Myrdalur Workshops resulted in a revision and updating of these protocols, along with an extension of the time range to 30 ka BP (Lowe et al., 2008). More recently, the INTIMATE event stratigraphy has been further extended to 48 ka BP (Blockley et al. 2011, Quaternary Science Reviews,in press.

Developments in geochronology: INTIMATE scientists have been involved in two important aspects of the geochronology of the Last Termination: (a) in refinements in 14C age modelling using Bayesian and other statistical approaches (e.g. Bronk Ramsey, 2008; 2009; Blockley et al., 2007, 2008); and (b) in the development of high-resolution ice core-chronologies, most notably the GICC05 timescale on the NGRIP core, which was first presented during the Carlsberg Dating Conferences (2005, 2006), Carlsberg Academy, Copenhagen (Rasmussen et al., 2006; Svensson et al., 2008).

 fig 12. ice cores 830 ka
Comparison of the δ18O records for the NGRIP and GRIP ice-core records for the last 30,000 years at a 50-year resolution (after Lowe et al., 2008).

Developments in tephrochronology: Major advances have been made in tephrochronology in recent years. They include the recovery of non-visible tephras from marine and terrestrial sediments; refinements in the geochemical fingerprinting of tephras; the dating of tephra horizons; the detection of volcanic signals in ice cores, and the development of increasingly comprehensive tephra data-bases. In the North Atlantic region, for example, more than twenty tephra isochrones have been identified from the Last Termination alone. INTIMATE scientists have been at the forefront of many of these developments (Davies et al., 2002; Turney et al., 2004, 2006b; Davies et al, 2011).

Ratification of the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary: As described above, a Joint Working Group of INTIMATE and the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) was established to bring forward a proposal for the definition of the Pleistocene-Holocene boundary (Global Stratotype Section and Point: GSSP) based on the NorthGRIP Greenland ice core. The boundary was identified using a range of physical and chemical properties, and a timescale, based on multi-parameter annual layer counting provides an age of 11,700 calendar yr b2k (before AD 2000) for the base of the Holocene, with a maximum counting error of 99 yr.  Five auxiliary stratotypes (Splan Pond, eastern Canada; Cariaco Basin, Venezuela; Eifelmaar Lakes, Germany; Lake Suigetsu, Japan; and Lake Maratoto, New Zealand) were recommended to support the proposal. This was submitted to the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) via the SQS and, in May 2008, the Executive Committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) ratified the Holocene GSSP located at 1492.45m depth in the NGRIP ice core, Greenland (Walker et al., 2008; 2009).

Fig 13. Holocene boundary

The visual stratigraphy of the NGRIP core between 1491.6 and 1493.25 m depth obtained using a digital line scanner. Here the image is ’reversed’ so that clear ice shows up black, whereas the cloudy bands, which contain relatively large quantities of impurities, in particular micrometre-sized dust particles from dry areas in eastern Asia, appear white. The location of the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary at 1492.45 m is shown in the enlarged lower image (after Walker et al., 2009).


{jkefel title=[2010-]}

INTIMATE 2010-2014

Following discussions at the Oxford Workshop in 2008, INTIMATE made an application for funding to the EU COST Action Programme. This was organised through a Steering Group chaired by Chris Turney. The application was successful and a grant of €68k was awarded to INTIMATE in 2010. Although INTIMATE had secured moderate amounts of funding, principally through INQUA (see below), this was the first subtantial grant that the programme had received. The receipt of this award led to an overhaul of INTIMATE’s administrative structure, with the creation of a Mangement Committee to oversee the programme. The first Chairman was Chris Turney but, following his move to a position in Australia, Sune Olander Rasmussen took on the role of overall Co-ordinator in December 2010, with Hans Renssen as Vice-Chair. Other members of the Core Group were Niki Evelpidou, Wim Hoek, Marit Solveig Seidenkrantz and Anders Svensson. Most of these had been members of the Grant Application Steering Group. The work within the EU COST Action programme, which ran until June 2014, was organised through four Working Groups: Dating and Chronological Modelling (Irka Hajdas and Achim Brauer); Quantification of Past Climate Change (Anders Svensson and Ana Moreno); Modelling Mechanisms of Past Change (Didier Roche and Simon Blockley); Climate Impacts (Wim Hoek and Hilary Birks). See the Organization section for more information

The activities of the INTIMATE COST Action are documented in the Activities and Documentation sections.


At the final meeting of the INTIMATE COST Action, Dr. Christine Lane was elected chair of the post-COST INTIMATE project. A link will be posted here when a web page for the post-COST INTIMATE project is launched.



{jkefel title=[Bibliography]}

INTIMATE's Bibliography

Battarbee, R. W., Gasse, F. & Stickley, C.E. (eds) (2004). Past Climate Variability through Europe and Africa. Springer Verlag, Berlin.

Blockley, S.P.E., Blaauw, M., Bronk Ramsey, C. & van der Plicht, J. (2007). Building and testing age models for radiocarbon dates in Lateglacial and Early Holocene sediments. Quaternary Science Reviews, 26, 1915-1926.

Blockley, S.P.E., Ramsey, C.B., Lane, C.S. & Lotter, A.F. (2008). Improved age modelling approaches as exemplified by the revised chronlogy for the central European varved Lake Soppensee. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 61-71.

Blockley, S.P.E., Lane, C.S., Hardiman, M., Rasmussen, S.O., Seierstad, I.K., Steffensen, J.P., Lotter, A.F., Turney, C.S., Bronk Ramsey, C., INTIMATE Members.   in press.   Synchronisation of palaeoenvironmental records over the last 60,000 years, and an extended INTIMATE event stratigraphy to 48,000 b2k.   Quaternary Science Reviews (in Early View).

Bjorck, S., Walker, M.J.C., Cwynar, L., Johnsen, S.  Knudsen, K-L., Lowe, J.J., Wohlfarth, B. & INTIMATE members (1998). An event stratigraphy for the Last Termination in the North Atlantic region based on the Greenland Ice Core record: a proposal by the INTIMATE group. Journal of Quaternary Science, 13, 283-292.

Bjorck, S., Lowe, J.J. & Walker, M.J.C.  (eds.) (2001). Integration of Ice Core, Marine and Terrestrial Records of Termination 1 from the North Atlantic Region. Quaternary Science Reviews, 20, 1169-1274.

Bronk Ramsey, C. (2008). Deposition models for chronlogical records. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 42-60.

Bronk Ramsey, C. (2009). Bayesian analysis of radiocarbon dates. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 42-60.

Davies, S.M., Branch, N.P., Lowe, J.J. & Turney, C.S.M. (2002). Towards a European tephrochronological framework for Termination 1 and the early Holocene. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, London, 360A, 767-802.

Davies, S.M., Abbott, P.M., Pearce, N.J.G, Wastegard, S. & Blockley, S.P.E. 2011. Integrating the INTIMATE records using tephrochronology. Quaternary Science Reviews, in press.

Lowe, J.J. (ed). (1994). North Atlantic Seaboard programme IGCP-253. Climate changes in areas adjacent to the North Atlantic during the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition. Journal of Quaternary Science, 9, 95-198.

Lowe, J.J., Ammann, B., Birks, H.H., Bjorck, S., Coope, G.R., Cwynar, L.C., De Beaulieu, J.-L., Mott, R.J., Peteet, D.M. & Walker, M.J.C. (1994). Climatic changes in areas adjacent to the North Atlantic during the Last glacial-interglacial transition (14-9 ka BP): a contribution to IGCP-253. Journal of Quaternary Science, 9, 185-198.

Lowe, J.J. and NASP Members. (1995). Palaeoclimate of the North Atlantic Seaboards during the Last Glacial/Interglacial Transition. Quaternary International, 28, 51-62.

Lowe, J.J., Hoek, W. and INTIMATE Group (2001). Inter-regional correlation of palaeoclimatic records for the Last Glacial-Interglacial Transition: a protocol for improved precision recommended by the INTIMATE project group. Quaternary Science Reviews, 20, 1175-1187.

Lowe, J.J., Rasmussen, S.O., Bjorck, S., Hoek, W.Z., Steffensen, J.P., Walker, M.J.C., Yu, Z. and the INTIMATE group. (2008). Synchronisation of palaeoenvironmental events in the North Atlantic region during the Last Termination: a revised protocol recommended by the INTIMATE group. Quaternary Science Reviews, 27, 6-17.

Rasmussen, S.O., Anderson, K.K., Svensson, A.M., Steffensen, J.-P., Vinther, B.M., Clausen, H.B., Siggard-Andersen, M.L., Johnsen, S.J., Larsen, L.B., Bigler, M., Rothlisberger, R., Fischer, H., Goto-Azuma, K., Hansson, M.E. & Ruth, U. (2006). A new Greenland ice core chronology for the last glacial termination. Journal of Geophysical Research, 111, D06102. Doi:10,1029/2005/JD006079.

Svensson, A., Andersen K.K., Bigler, M., Clausen, H.B. Dahl-Jensen, D.,  Davies, S.M., Johnsen, S.J., Muscheler, R., Parrenin, F., Rasmussen, S.O., Rothlisberger, R., Seierstad, I., Steffensen, J.-P. & Vinther, B.M. (2008). A 60 000 year Greenland stratigraphic ice core chronology. Climate of the Past, 4, 47-57.

Turney, C.S.M., J.J. Lowe, S.M. Davies, V. Hall, D. Lowe, S. Wastegard, W.Z. Hoek, B. Alloway, SCOTAV & INTIMATE members (2004) Tephrochronology of Last Termination sequences in Europe:  a protocol for improved analytical precision and robust correlation procedures (a joint SCOTAV-INTIMATE proposal). Journal of Quaternary Science 19, 111-120.

Turney, C.S.M, Kershaw, P. & Lynch, A.  (eds) (2006a). Integrating high-resolution past climate records for future prediction in the Autralasian region. Journal of Quaternary Science, 21, 679-801.

Turney, C.S.M., Van Den Burg, K., Wastegard, S., Davies, S.M., Whitehouse, N.J., Pilcher, J.R. & Callaghan, C. (2006b).  North European last glacial-interglacial transition (LGIT; 15-9 ka BP) tephrochronolog: extended limits and new events. Journal of  Quaternary Science, 21, 335-345.

Vandenberghe, J., Lowe, J., Coope, G.R., Litt, T. & Zoller, L. (2004). Climatic and environmental variability in the Europe sector during the last interglacial-glacial cycle. In Battarbee, R., Gasse, F. & Stickley, C.E. (eds), Past Climate Variability through Europe and Africa, 443-449. Springer Verlag, Berlin.

Walker, M.J.C. (1995). Climatic changes in Europe during the Last Glacial/Interglacial Transition. Quaternary International, 28, 63-76.

Walker, M.J.C. & Lowe, J.J. (eds) (1993). Records of the Last Deglaciation around the North Atlantic. Quaternary Science Reviews, 12, 597-738.

Walker, M.J.C., Bjorck, S.,  Cwynar, L., Johnsen, S.,  Knudsen, K-L., Lowe, J.J., Wohlfarth, B. & the INTIMATE group (1999). Isotopic 'events' in the GRIP ice core: a stratotype for the Late Pleistocene. Quaternary Science Reviews,  18, 1143-1150.

Walker, M., Johnsen, S., Rasmussen, S.O., Steffensen, J.-P., Popp, T., Gibbard, P., Hoek, W., Lowe, J., Andrews, J., Bjorck, S., Cwynar, L., Hughen, K., Kershaw, P., Kromer, B., Litt, T., Lowe, D.J., Nakagawa, T., Newnham, R. & Schwander, J.  (2008). A proposal for the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the base of the Holocene Series/Epoch (Quaternary System/Period) in the NGRIP ice core. Episodes, 31, 264-267.

Walker, M.,  Johnsen, S., Rasmussen, S.O., Popp, T., Steffensen, J-P., Gibbard, P., Hoek, W., Lowe, J., Andrews, J., Bjorck, S., Cwynar, L.C. Hughen, K., Kershaw, P., Kromer, B., Litt, T., Loe, D.J., Nakagawa, T., Newnham,. R. & Schwander, J. (2009). Formal definition and dating of the GSSP (Global Stratotype Section and Point) for the base of the Holocene using the Greenland NGRIP ice core, and selected auxiliary records. Journal of Quaternary Science, 24, 3-17.



Category: The Action

What is COST?

COST is an intergovernmental framework for European Cooperation in Science and Technology, allowing the coordination of nationally-funded research on a European level. COST contributes to reducing the fragmentation in European research investments and opening the European Research Area to cooperation worldwide.

The goal of COST is to ensure that Europe holds a strong position in the field of scientific and technical research for peaceful purposes, by increasing European cooperation and interaction in this field. This research initiative makes it possible for the various national facilities, institutes, universities and private industry to work jointly on a wide range of Research and Development (R&D) activities.

COST – together with EUREKA and the EU framework programmes – is one of the three pillars of joint European research initiatives. These three complementary structures have differing areas of research.

COST has clearly shown its strength in non-competitive research, pre-normative cooperation, and solving environmental, cross-border and public utility problems. It has been successfully used to maximise European synergy and added value in research cooperation and is a useful tool to further European integration.
Ease of access for institutions from non-member countries also makes COST a very interesting and successful tool for tackling topics of a truly global nature.

Nine Key Scientific Domains

As a precursor of advanced multidisciplinary research, COST plays a very important role in building a European Research Area (ERA). It anticipates and complements the activities of the EU Framework Programmes, constituting a “bridge” towards the scientific communities of emerging countries. It also increases the mobility of researchers across Europe and fosters the establishment of scientific excellence in the nine key domains:

In addition, Trans-Domain Proposals allow for broad, multidisciplinary proposals to strike across the nine scientific domains.


How Does COST Work?

COST does not fund research itself but provides a platform for European scientists to cooperate on a particular project and exchange expertise. These projects are called "Actions".

Network of People

Each COST Action is a network centred around nationally-funded research projects in fields that are of interest to at least five COST countries. COST provides the COST Actions with financial support for joint activities such as conferences, short-term scientific exchanges and publications. Each COST Action has an objective, defined goals and clear deliverables. COST Actions have located their topic into one of COST’s scientific Domains.

One of COST's main characteristics is its flexibility, allowing for an easy implementation and light management of the research initiatives. Activities are launched following a "bottom-up" approach, meaning that the initiative of launching a COST Action comes from the European researchers themselves. The member countries participate on a "à la carte" principle, in that only countries interested in the Action participate.

Researchers who wish to launch a new Action first submit a short proposal to the continuous COST Open Call for Proposals, which is then evaluated by the Domain Committee. If the proposal is accepted, the applicantis are invited to submit a full proposal with a complete Technical Annex (the scientific and managerial description of an Action). The full proposal is then assessed through a peer review process.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) provides the formal basis of an Action. The proposal for a new Action must fulfill certain formal and qualitative criteria, and if the Committee of Senior Officials (CSO) approves the MoU, the COST countries wishing to take part in the Action can agree to it.

An Action is launched when at least five COST member states have agreed the MoU and starts with the first Management Committee meeting of the Action. It runs for an average of four years.

Category: The Action

As identified by previous work, there is an evident need for the homogenization and harmonization of climate reconstructions using a common set of sampling and methods of analysis. Networking creates added value and is invaluable to advance the continuity, scope and quality of research.

There is a strong need to connect climate modellers with climate scientists studying past change. In this field, research has been carried out separately within the existing national and European research communities. Integration of climate datasets with climate models will allow

(i) the identification of key knowledge gaps in the distribution and quality of past climate data;

(ii) recognize the limitations of models for specific applications in order to provide guidance to users; and

(iii) identify the causes of model limitations to provide guidance for developers to reduce uncertainties in future prediction.

The linkages between proxy data collection and interpretation, and their application in modelling experiments is a key aspect of the project and will form a significant part of this Action. The aim is to explore different approaches to modelling experiments which could be used to inform model quality in the context of the data collected.

In this framework, this COST Action is expected to produce innovative results. Significant synergies will arise from the observational data (range, magnitude and impact of past change) and methodologies (cross-fertilization between palaeoclimatic reconstruction and the need of the modelling community to best exploit these datasets). The past climate science community will benefit from the modelling community recommendations, addressing the required data issues and respond to the research needs. In turn, the modelling community will be supported to develop major insights into the mechanisms and impacts of abrupt and extreme change.

This Action will specifically stimulate the much needed interaction between the modelling and palaeo communities by structuring a series of workshops where this Action will identify specific goals, such as producing better integrated model/data comparisons for key scenarios.

Category: The Action

The main aim of this COST Action is to develop common protocols and methods to reconstruct abrupt and extreme climate changes across the full range of the European environment (ice, marine and terrestrial) over the period 60,000 to 8000 years ago, to better understand the mechanisms and impact of change, and thereby reduce the uncertainty of future prediction.
Past climate and environmental data provide critical tests of global and regional climate models. While there are a small number of high profile records, such as the Greenland ice cores, which are critical for informing on the dynamic nature of past climate change, it is at the scale of Europe and the North Atlantic that abrupt climate variability needs to be fully explored. It is crucial that independent records of abrupt climate change across Europe are generated and robustly compared to test for leads/lags in the climate system and the interaction between different climate forcing mechanisms. Doing so will critically underpin our ability to model future climate change and ecosystem response. The main objectives of this Action are to standardize methodologies across Europe; incorporate reconstructions within climate models; and facilitate interdisciplinary science collaborations, including early-stage and established scientists, to build European research capacity.

General background

Since the 1960s, scientific understanding of our global environment and its climate has undergone a remarkable transformation. We are now increasingly aware that the world around us is dynamic, and quasi-stable only in the short-term. Recognizing the challenge of human-induced climate change, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 to assess our understanding of the scientific basis of the risks of climate change and opportunities for adaptation and mitigation. Since this time, the IPCC has reported a scientific consensus of the latest findings; the most recent Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) was released through 2007. The conclusions are startling: by 2100 global temperatures are estimated to increase between 1 and 6.5degC compared to 1990, accompanied by a sea level rise of 20 to 60 centimetres (IPCC, 2007). Worryingly, the AR4 estimates already appear conservative (Rahmstorf et al., 2007), largely because of increasing greenhouse gas emissions and uncertainties in the sensitivity of the Earth system to changes in radiative forcing. Palaeoclimate data can address this issue, extending historical records and providing critical insights into climate system extremes, thereby reducing uncertainty of future change (Schrag and Alley, 2004). Of particular importance is understanding changes in the climate system around so-called tipping points. To fully exploit the value of past climate and environmental change, this Action will draw upon the lessons learnt from previous initiatives and work within the period 60,000 to 8000 years ago, a period which represents exceptional climatic variability that experienced both abrupt (on annual to decadal timescales) and long-term (centennial to millennial) extremes that coincided with significant changes in atmospheric CO2 concentration (Monnin et al., 2001), deepwater formation (Marchitto et al., 2007), westerly airflow (Shulmeister et al., 2004) and sea level (Chappell 2002; Turney and Brown, 2008) that had significant impacts on past European populations (Turney et al., 2006).

This COST Action will bring together pan-European scientists and international experts to focus on developing innovative past climate reconstruction tools and methods. A key learning experience of previous activities by group members is strong incentives for a foundation of interdisciplinary and international collaboration networks are needed, in order to link the European and Non-European researchers active in this research field. According to the objectives, this Action is the most appropriate research framework to implement a past climate research network in Europe.

In line with the highlighted scientific questions and problems, the objectives of the proposed cooperation are:

1. to review and analyze the state-of-the-art in climate reconstructions from ice-core, marine, and terrestrial records;

2. to standardize the tools and methods used in climate reconstruction and development of chronological frameworks;

3. integrate pan-European climate reconstructions using common methods within highly-precise chronological frameworks;

4. determine the timing, rates of change, spatial variability and climate gradients and ecosystem impacts;

5. incorporate reconstructions into climate models to better determine the mechanisms of regional and global change; and

6. facilitate interdisciplinary science collaborations between past and contemporary climate scientists, and foster close collaboration between early-stage and established scientists to build future European research capacity.

It is highly likely that this Action will produce a positive impact on the past climate research field within the European scientific community. Encouraging the use of similar protocols, standardized measurements and methods across the full range of environments and ecosystems within Europe will stimulate cooperation and facilitate a regional perspective on the rates, timing and magnitude of past climate change, providing invaluable insights into the likely impacts of future variability.

Current state of knowledge

At present, a complete integration of past climate and environmental reconstructions to constrain the predictive ability of climate models has not yet been achieved, although several past international initiatives have been developed with this aim. Most importantly, the North Atlantic INTIMATE project (Walker et al., 2001) was to synthesise ice-core, marine and terrestrial records that span the period at the end of the last glacial period (the ‘Last Termination’, 22,000 to 11,700 years ago; Walker et al., 2009). Their key objective was to determine whether abrupt climatic changes during that period, as reflected in a range of proxy records, were regionally synchronous or whether there were significant ‘leads’ and ‘lags’ between the atmospheric, marine, terrestrial and cryospheric realms (Lowe et al., 2008). A major difficulty concerns the wide usage of climatostratigraphic terms that were originally defined with specific reference to events in Scandinavia, such as ‘Younger Dryas’, ‘Bølling’ and ‘Allerød’ (Björck et al., 1998), which cannot have the same climatostratigraphic meaning around the globe, nor can they be used, sensu stricto, as chronostratigraphic units, because of the timetransgressive nature of climate change (Lowe et al., 2008). In order to standardise stratigraphical procedures and to clarify the sequence, timing and duration of events during the Last Termination, INTIMATE advocated an Event Stratigraphy approach, using the GRIP isotopic record as the regional stratotype, as this was considered to provide the best-resolved and most complete template for climatic events during the Last Termination in the North Atlantic region. Other records based on independently determined palaeoclimatic reconstructions and age models from the terrestrial and marine realms have since been compared to the ice-core stratotype, replacing the conventional (Nordic) chrono/climatostratigraphic terms as the standard for comparison (Walker et al., 1999).

Establishing the precise order of events during the Last Termination has proved a challenging goal, however, principally because of the different approaches to using proxy data and dating methods to generate quantified climate reconstructions and robust independently-derived geochronological frameworks spanning individual climatic episodes (Lowe et al., 2008). Undertaking a unified approach has become particularly critical in light of recent findings from the Greenland ice-core records that have demonstrated climate shifts can occur within a year (Steffensen et al., 2008). Fortunately, recent developments in quantified climate reconstruction (e.g. using chironomids, Coleoptera, isotopes and pollen), time-parallel marker horizons (e.g. vitreous volcanic ejecta (tephra) which have radically extended the range of tephrochronology across Europe into areas not previously considerable suitable for this approach e.g. Turney, 1998; Blockley et al., 2005; Turney et al., 2006) and developments in comprehensive Bayesian statistical analysis (Bronk Ramsey, 2001, 2007), now allows the comprehensive integration of different datasets and the rigorous comparison of records at a level of precision hitherto not considered possible.

It is now recognized that the scientific questions have evolved since the original inception of the group. A truly dynamical understanding can only be achieved with a companion modelling approach. The scientific community’s ability to forecast the rates and magnitudes of future change is limited by numerical models of climate change, which in turn are limited by the lack of high-quality data on how past climate has varied over time and the mechanisms that drove these changes. This proposed COST Action therefore aims to better understand the impact and mechanisms of rapid and extreme climate change, thereby reducing the uncertainty of future predictions.

Category: The Action


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