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.