The American Quaternary Association (AMQUA) is a professional organization of North American scientists devoted to studying all aspects of the Quaternary Period, about the last 2 million years of Earth history. Studying the Quaternary is critically important because it has been a time of frequent and dramatic environmental changes, exemplified by growing and decaying continental ice sheets and mountain glaciers. Beyond understanding the forces that shaped our modern environment, studying the Quaternary Period is significant because the Ice Age environmental changes were the backdrop for global changes in floral and faunal communities, including extinction of a diverse megafauna, and for the evolution of modern humans and their dispersal throughout the world.
AMQUA was founded in 1970 primarily to foster cooperation and communication among the remarkably broad array of disciplines involved in studying the Quaternary Period. Major academic and applied disciplines represented by the AMQUA membership include anthropology, archaeology, botany, climatology, ecology, geochemistry, geochronology, geography, geology, geomorphology, geophysics, hydrology, limnology, meteorology, neotectonics, oceanography, paleontology, palynology, soil science, and zoology.
Quaternary scientists seek answers to questions concerning past and present interactions among atmospheric, oceanic, and terrestrial systems, physical and biotic, during the time when the record is best preserved. Issues in Earth and human history addressed by Quaternary scientists include: the causes of the ice ages and rapid local and global environmental changes; the timing of changes in plant and animal communities; the environment and climatic modeling of ice-age and deglacial times; the history and causes of sea level changes; human paleoecology; paleogeographic and paleoenvironmental constraints on the peopling of the New World; and evaluating natural hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunamis, and landslides.
Research by Quaternary scientists also involves managing and conserving the natural environment and embraces an array of environmental issues. Humans are an integral component of the Quaternary environment, they live on and utilize Quaternary landscapes, and in recent millennia humans have had a significant impact on that environment and landscape. Quaternary scientists are trying to understand those impacts and how humans have been affected by natural and human-induced environmental changes and may be affected by future change. Quaternary investigators identify and assess resources important to human existence such as deposits that support agriculture, that are a source of sand, gravel, and groundwater, and that serve as waste repositories. Quaternary scientists also address human alterations of these resources such as water contamination and soil erosion.