Geoscience meets the four horsemen? Tracking the rise of neocatastrophism

Nick Marriner, Christophe Morhange, Stefan Skrimshire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although it is acknowledged that there has been an exponential growth in neocatastrophist geoscience inquiry, the extent, chronology and origin of this mode have not been precisely scrutinized. In this study, we use the bibliographic research tool Scopus to explore 'catastrophic' words replete in the earth and planetary science literature between 1950 and 2009, assessing when, where and why catastrophism has gained new currency amongst the geoscience community. First, we elucidate an exponential rise in neocatastrophist research from the 1980s onwards. We then argue that the neocatastrophist mode came to prominence in North America during the 1960s and 1970s before being more widely espoused in Europe, essentially after 1980. We compare these trends with the EM-DAT disaster database, a worldwide catalogue that compiles more than 11,000 natural disasters stretching back to 1900. The findings imply a clear link between anthropogenically forced global change and an increase in disaster research (r2=0.73). Finally, we attempt to explain the rise of neocatastrophism by highlighting seven non-exhaustive factors: (1) the rise of applied geoscience; (2) inherited geological epistemology; (3) disciplinary interaction and the diffusion of ideas from the planetary to earth sciences; (4) the advent of radiometric dating techniques; (5) the communications revolution; (6) webometry and the quest for high-impact geoscience; and (7) popular cultural frameworks.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-48
Number of pages6
JournalGlobal and Planetary Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank W. Alvarez, C. Babin, V. Baker, O. Bellier, C. Koeberl, P. Leveau, M. Provansal, I. Stewart and an anonymous for their fruitful remarks on earlier versions of this manuscript. This work was supported by ANR PALEOMED , CNRS PEPS SHS and CNRS PEPS INEE .


  • Catastrophism
  • Disaster science
  • Geology
  • Geomorphology
  • Geoscience
  • Neocatastrophism
  • Uniformitarianism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Oceanography


Dive into the research topics of 'Geoscience meets the four horsemen? Tracking the rise of neocatastrophism'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this