The 2.6 million years of the Quaternary represents the time during which recognizable humans existed.
Over this geologically short time period, there has been relatively little change in the distribution of the continents due to plate tectonics.
The Quaternary Period follows the Neogene Period and extends to the present.
The Quaternary covers the time span of glaciations classified as the Pleistocene, and includes the present interglacial time-period, the Holocene.
This places the start of the Quaternary at the onset of Northern Hemisphere glaciation approximately 2.6 million years ago.
Prior to 2009, the Pleistocene was defined to be from 1.805 million years ago to the present, so the current definition of the Pleistocene includes a portion of what was, prior to 2009, defined as the Pliocene.
'Chibanian' and 'Tarantian' are informal, unofficial names proposed to replace the also informal, unofficial 'Middle Pleistocene' and 'Upper Pleistocene' subseries/subepochs respectively.
In Europe and North America, the Holocene is subdivided into Preboreal, Boreal, Atlantic, Subboreal, and Subatlantic stages of the Blytt–Sernander time scale.
The Quaternary geological record is preserved in greater detail than that for earlier periods.
The major geographical changes during this time period included the emergence of the Strait of Bosphorus and Skagerrak during glacial epochs, which respectively turned the Black Sea and Baltic Sea into fresh water, followed by their flooding (and return to salt water) by rising sea level; the periodic filling of the English Channel, forming a land bridge between Britain and the European mainland; the periodic closing of the Bering Strait, forming the land bridge between Asia and North America; and the periodic flash flooding of Scablands of the American Northwest by glacial water.
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The Quaternary Period is typically defined by the cyclic growth and decay of continental ice sheets associated with Milankovitch cycles and the associated climate and environmental changes that occurred.
This idea gained him international fame and led to the establishment of the Glacial Theory.