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 QRC was founded in 1969 by Lincoln Washburn and is the oldest interdisciplinary center at UW and one of oldest Quaternary centers in the country. Since its inception, the QRC has been a hub of interdisciplinary research, drawing together UW faculty, students, associates, and visiting researchers in the study of everything from tectonics to climate, hydrosphere to ecosystems, and human evolution/adaptations and environmental impacts over the past 2.6 million years.

The "Quaternary" refers to the last 2.5 million years of Earth history, corresponding to the great ice ages and intervening interglacial periods. This time period embraces the history of humanity from the first stone tool users in Africa, human colonization of the habitable surfaces of the planet, agricultural innovations, and the economic diversification and intensifications that support a current population over 7 billion people. It encompasses major transformations of the Earth’s ecosystems through intervals of dramatic cooling and warming and anthropogenic habitat modification. Today human "niche construction" has modified the majority of the earth’s surface, engendering significant impacts on the planet’s atmosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and social systems.

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. Processes set in motion through the Quaternary culminate today in both intended and unintended anthropogenic impacts at a global scale. Understanding this period thus requires science that considers the unique and interacting dynamics of atmospheric, aquatic, earth, biotic and social systems in interdisciplinary and comparative perspectives. Understanding the history, evolution, and variability of these linked systems forms the core mission of the QRC.

To that end the QRC also embraces the study of deeper time and even processes on other planets as they shed light on Earth’s Quaternary patterns and processes (e.g., processes and impacts of rapid warming in the Eocene or the geomorphological understanding of surface processes on Mars have implications for the future of a warming earth). This attention to comparative and time transgressive case studies at varying scales, centered on, but not limited to, the past 2.6 million years, makes the past relevant to the present and to our efforts to plan for a desirable future.

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.

Our Center on campus is located in Johnson Hall, the Earth and Space Sciences Department. View us on the map: http://www.washington.edu/maps/#!/jhn

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

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