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The Quaternary is the youngest geological period, beginning 2.58 Ma ago and including the present day; it is therefore the only geological period that is continuously growing. During the first epoch of the Quaternary, the Pleistocene, extremely cold and warm conditions alternated, frequently over short periods of time. This resulted in processes currently only operating in cold (polar and high-mountain) environments extending to and affecting the midlatitudes, including the currently densely populated areas of North America and Europe. In Britain every region has been affected by cold-region processes, which have produced unique sedimentary and geomorphological signatures. Hence, an intimate knowledge of these processes is of direct relevance to engineering geologists and anyone working with natural materials. This chapter reviews the state of the art of (a) the stratigraphic (nomenclatorial) framework of the Quaternary, (b) prominent concepts that are of direct relevance to understanding the detailed overviews in Chapters 35; and (c) key findings on the dynamics of these processes and their implications for engineering-geological questions and problems.

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