About the QRC

Johnson Hall
Johnson Hall houses the Quaternary
Research Center and the Department of Earth and
Space Sciences. Built in 1930, it is named for Orson B.
Johnson who joined the faculty in 1882 as a professor
of physiology, botany, zoology, biology, mineralogy,
geology, chemistry, and natural philosophy.


The “Quaternary” refers to the last 2½ million years of Earth history, corresponding to the great ice ages and intervening interglacial periods.  Knowledge of Quaternary environmental changes facilitates an understanding of earth history in relation to the modern environment and future change. This linking of the past, present, and future is fundamental to the interdisciplinary mission of the Quaternary Research Center.


The Quaternary Research Center is the original interdisciplinary center at the University of Washington.  It has remained vibrant by evolving over the last 30 years from a department-like structure to an entrepreneurial organization that makes strategic investments to foster and promote interdisciplinary research within and across core departments.

The QRC has an active group of adjunct faculty from the departments of Anthropology, Atmospheric Sciences, Biology, Forest Resources, Earth & Space Sciences, Oceanography, and Civil and Environmental Engineering.  As a result, there is a broad spectrum of interdisciplinary, mutually supportive opportunities for learning and research.

Areas of excellence in the QRC include process geomorphology, glaciology, paleoceanography, neotectonics, human dimensions of climate and environmental change, climate dynamics, cosmogenic isotope and stable isotope geochemistry, and permafrost.  We do not limit ourselves to the Quaternary sensu strictu and our work also includes the study the Martian surface, pre-Quaternary climate changes such as the Eocene.

QRC research is both basic and applied.  We provide a scientific perspective on the magnitude of human-induced environmental change, including climatic change, in the context of recent earth history.  We also apply those results to modern environmental problems and natural hazards, helping to guide and understand the consequences of policy decisions.

Geographical Setting

Located in the Pacific Northwest, the University of Washington is in a strategic position to participate in both terrestrial and marine aspects of Quaternary research. Our proximity to ocean, lakes, rivers, mountains, lowlands, rain forests, alpine tundra, and the arid Columbia Plateau attracts faculty and students with research interests spanning a wide range of subjects and environments. Our diverse topography and climates provide an ideal research setting, with glaciers, volcanoes, Quaternary sediments and landforms, and biogenic deposits all within driving distance from campus.

Spring Workshop

The QRC Spring Workshop brings national and international experts to the UW for an intensive 2-3 day mini-conference on a different theme each year. Past workshop topics have included:

     Glaciation, Climate Variability, and Climate Dynamics in the Tropics: An Interdisciplinary Workshop in honor of Stephen C. Porter

     Environmental Change and Natural Hazards in the Northwest: Lessons from the Past

     Tsunami Deposits

     Large Earthquakes and Active Faults in the Puget Sound Region

     Physical and Biological Responses to the Younger Dryas Climatic Oscillation in the Circum-Pacific Region

     Surface-Exposure Dating of Quaternary Landforms: Promise and Limitations

  Clumped Isotope geochemistry

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Graduate Program

The academic program associated with the QRC is coordinated with affiliated graduate departments. Students interested in doing research in a Quaternary-related subject at the Center should apply through the traditional department of their choice.

Contact Information

Quaternary Research Center
University of Washington
Johnson Hall, Room 377A
Box 351310
Seattle, WA 98195-1310

Resource Center
QRC Special Collections

Website Curator

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