Tephrabase: Background

Tephrabase was originally designed to be used by those involved in tephrochronological research in north-west Europe. In practice, this means those working in the British Isles, Scandinavia and Iceland (the source of the tephra layers). The aims of this project have not changed since Tephrabase was first unveiled in 1995, except that details about tephra layers and eruptions in central Mexico and other parts of Europe have been included.

More detailed information about this project can be found in Newton et al. (1997 and 2007) and Newton (1996). The five point list below details the original aims of this project.

  • To provide the Quaternary community of north-west Europe with an easily accessible database of the diagnostic characteristics and spatial distribution of Icelandic tephra layers (initially post 20 ka BP).
  • To aid in the identification of tephra layers by using the spatial, temporal and geochemical information stored in the database.
  • To provide a database of Icelandic volcanic systems, their eruptions and products to which distal tephra layers may be correlated.
  • To encourage and promote responsible use of existing data.
  • To promote the use of tephrochronology in palaeoenvironmental studies and archaeology.

Structure of the Database

Details of design of the database are available from here. Included are details on the tables within the database and the relationships between these tables. If you are going to donate data to the database you will find it useful to look at these pages. Also if you are setting up your own database, you might find this information useful.


There are many people who have helped with the production of this database. This project was originally funded by a grant from the Natural Environment Research Council in 1994. Since then, additional funding, mainly from the Leverhulme Trust, has enabled further development of the system. This is particularily the case with the addition of the Mexican data.

Although it is well over 20 years since the project began it is important to acknowledge the original help of those people without whom Tephrabase would not have worked. Particular thanks must go to Bruce Gittings (School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh) for designing the original interface with Oracle, maintaining the Geography WWW server and building the original Tephramap part of the system. Steve Dowers (Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh) helped with the more technical sides of the database development, especially with the Oracle CASE and Developer 2000 software. Malcolm Murray always gave enthusiastic support and the Tephrabase logos are his and his comments on the original WWW page design were and are invaluable. Hjalti Guðnundsson helped with the original translation of some of the Icelandic literature. Sarah Davies has provided the information on maar lakes in central Mexico.

Guðrún Larsen and Jón Eiríksson (Science Institute, Reykjavík) and Andy Dugmore (Institute of Geography, University of Edinburgh) comments shaped the original database design and structure and helped hugely with the tephrochronological and volcanological aspects.

The addtion of the Laacher See data was only possible with the cooperation of Felix Reide (Aarhus Universitet)


Riede, F., Bazely, O., Newton, A.J. and Lane C.S. (2011) A Laacher See-eruption supplement to Tephrabase: Investigating distal tephra fallout dynamics. Quaternary International 246(1-2), 134-144.

Newton, A.J., Dugmore, A.J. and Gittings, B.M. (2007) Tephrabase: tephrochronology and the development of a centralised European database. Journal of Quaternary Science 22, 737-743.

Newton A.J., Gittings B., Stuart N. (1997) Designing a scientific database Query Server using the World Wide Web: The example of Tephrabase. Innovations in GIS 4, Taylor and Francis, London, 251-266.

Newton A.J. (1996)Tephrabase. A Tephrochronological Database. Quaternary Newsletter, 78, 8-13.