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New Zealand’s Geological Timescale

NZ geological timescale cover

Our research has resulted in the establishment of the first fully integrated, comprehensive geological timescale for New Zealand, from Cambrian to Holocene.

The geological timescale is the time framework by which we date, correlate and classify rock formations and geological events. It provides the time framework for all studies of the history of the Earth and its life. It is used for assigning geological age to rocks, fossils and economic minerals, and for calibrating the rates of geological processes such as fault displacement and plate rotation, submergence, uplift and erosion of the land, earthquake frequency and volcanic activity. Rates of climate change, sea-level change, biodiversity change and organic evolution also are measured in terms of the geological timescale. Timescales play an important part in the search for petroleum and coal resources. It is essential therefore, that we have the most accurate and precise timescale available.

This timescale synthesises information from biostratigraphy and other dating methods, such as radiometric dating, that provide a means to calibrate New Zealand strata with the International Geological Timescale. The succession of New Zealand stages, definition of stage boundary-defining events, stratotype sections and points (SSPs) for stage boundaries, numerical ages and uncertainty limits for stage boundaries are presented.

The results of the NZ geological timescale project have been fully described in GNS Science Monograph 22 "The New Zealand Geological Timescale" by Roger Cooper and co-contributors. This work was updated in 2010 to bring age calibration of the Cretaceous and Cenozoic into line with the 2004 international timescale (Hollis et al. 2010, GNS_Science_Report_2010-43.pdf (985.59 kB) ).

A new calibration of the International Geological Timescale (Gradstein et al. 2012) has prompted a further revision of the New Zealand timescale. A wall chart version of the revised timescale and a summary table can be downloaded below. A report providing further details is in preparation.