About GTSnext

Time is a fundamental parameter in the Earth Sciences, essential for the integration of disparate datasets, unravelling cause and effect relationships, and for the quantification of rates and durations of geological processes. Temporal relationships are often the key to causality arguments in Earth Sciences, for example between environmental and biological change during mass extinction events. The Geological Time Scale (GTS) is instrumental for the quantification of geological time; however, published time scales are commonly based upon a limited number of geochronological tie-points and derivative age models that are different and of widely variable quality. The accuracy and resolution of such time scales are also variable, generally in the order of 1 to 0.5% at best. Large uncertainties - on the order of several millions of years - still exist in the age and duration of key geological intervals. Furthermore, it is increasingly clear that different techniques are yielding different ages for the same horizon suggesting that systematic bias may exist between the various techniques applied. This situation hampers full exploitation of the GTS for understanding Earth System evolution.

Recent developments in astronomical tuning and improvements in radio-isotopic dating bear the exciting prospect of a major breakthrough in the absolute calibration of the GTS: direct intercalibration of astronomical and radio-isotopic dating and time scales. This breakthrough will inevitably lead to a greatly enhanced understanding of many fundamental processes underlying Earth's evolution through the application of the new integrated time scale with its unprecedented accuracy, precision and resolution. The principal objective of GTSnext, our Initial Training Network (ITN), is the training of a new generation of scientists with the skills and understanding of time scale chronometry and the application of various techniques in order to facilitate an enhanced understanding of Earth System evolution. GTSnext will focus on the specific strengths of the European research teams in time scale development: astronomical dating of the Cenozoic through Cretaceous, direct intercalibration with radio-isotopic dating, 40Ar/39Ar tephrachronology, U/Pb dating, and intercalibration between key isotope systems used in high resolution geochronology.

Urgency of Pan-European Cooperation

The ongoing EARTHTIME initiative is an organized, international, community-based scientific network aimed at sequencing Earth history primarily through the integration of high-precision geochronology and quantitative chronostratigraphy. The US NSF provided funds to establish an organizational hub, a series of ongoing workshops and initial research into issues such as interlaboratory bias (www.earth-time.org). The proposed GTSnext ITN will add a central component to this international initiative by tackling the fundamental issues of the age calibration of the GTS and the consistency of radio-isotopic and astronomically derived time scales. We will build upon successful ongoing efforts in the international community (such as interlaboratory bias experiments, multi-disciplinary workshops) and continue to collaborate with, and contribute to the international initiative. The remarkably strong European expertise in the field of astrochronology, combined with established expertise in radio-isotopic dating, and integration of techniques already going on, offers a unique opportunity to intercalibrate the fundamentally different techniques used in time scale calibration and apply them to construct the next generation of the GTS. An application for an ESF Research Networking Program will be made in the fall of 2008 to broaden the network and include other disciplines such as biostratigraphy, magnetostratigraphy, chemostratigraphy and sequence stratigraphy. These disciplines play a key role in establishing worldwide correlations and a fully integrated GTS.