Penrose Conference

250 Million Years of Earth History in Central Italy: Celebrating 25 Years of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco

25–29 September 2017
Apiro, Marche Region, Italy


Alessandro Montanari, Osservatorio Geologico di Coldigioco, I-62020 Frontale di Apiro (MC), Italy
Christian Koeberl, Dept. of Lithospheric Research, University of Vienna, Althanstrasse 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria, and Natural History Museum, Burgring 7, A-1010 Vienna, Austria


GSA Foundation, Barringer Crater Company, and Associazione Le Montagne di San Francesco

Apiro in front of Monte San Vicino
Ten million years of geologic history across the Cretaceous-Paleogene boundary in the Frontale quarry near Coldigioco (image credit: A. Montanari).

Description and Objectives

Central Italy has been a cradle of geology for centuries. Since the beginning of the last century, the Triassic to Miocene carbonate succession exposed along the valleys of the Umbria and Marche Apennines of Italy has been a fertile playground for generations of earth scientists, particularly paleontologists, sedimentologists, stratigraphers, geophysicists, and structural geologists, from all over the world. It is in this geological theater that pioneering studies in the most disparate disciplines of the earth sciences have led to the understanding of novel principles and natural phenomena of the past, the development of new methodologies and experimental research approaches, and ultimately to discontinuities in scientific thinking, with the birth of concepts such as Event Stratigraphy, Integrated Stratigraphy, and Cyclostratigraphy applied to astronomical tuning, let alone Quaternary Geology, Neotectonics, and Speleogeology. The Umbria-Marche Apennines of northeastern Italy are a foreland fold-and-thrust belt, which was formed in the latest phase of the Alpine-Himalayan orogenesis. These mountains are entirely made of marine sedimentary rocks of the so-called Umbria-Marche Succession, which represents a continuous record of the geotectonic evolution of an epeiric sea from the Early Triassic to the Pleistocene. Studies of these rocks have promoted sensational discoveries, particularly about major events that have punctuated the history of Earth, such has the Cretaceous Oceanic Anoxic Events (OAE1 and OAE2), the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) Boundary Event (with the global mass extinction caused by a catastrophic extraterrestrial impact), the events across the Eocene-Oligocene transition from a greenhouse to an icehouse world, and the Messinian Salinity Crisis of the Mediterranean, just to name the most famous ones.

The objective of this conference is to present an updated vision of 250 million years of earth history as recorded in the sedimentary succession of the northern Apennine orogeny in central Italy. At the conference, besides keynote review presentations, original research works will be presented covering specific subjects of Tectonics and Structural Geology, Integrated Stratigraphy and Astronomical Tuning, Extraterrestrial Event Stratigraphy, and Quaternary Geology and Geo-Bio Speleology. These research works are either still in progress or they were accomplished but never published before, all with the support of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco, an independent research and educational center, which was founded in an abandoned medieval hamlet near Apiro in 1992 by Alessandro Montanari, Walter Alvarez, and David Bice.

Studies are now in progress about the recent tectono-seismic and structural history of the still active Umbria-Marche Apennines (as is exemplified by the recent seismic activity in 2016). More studies by international teams of stratigraphers are being conducted through long and continuous stretches of the Umbria-Marche sedimentary succession, focusing on the integration of bio-magneto-chemostratigraphy and radioisotopic geochronology with astronomical tuning via multiproxy cyclostratigraphic analysis.

One of the primary results that have been derived from the Umbria-Marche sedimentary succession in the past 25 years with the support of the Geological Observatory of Coldigioco has been the development of the subject of the role that extraterrestrial events, such as meteoritic impacts, comet showers, and asteroidal breakups, had in the biologic, environmental, and climatic changes of planet Earth. Studies about this subject will be presented in this Penrose Conference.

Last but not least are the tremendous advancements in the studies on the Pleistocene and Holocene history of this part of the world, which were focused on the extraordinary speleologic record of the Frasassi hypogenic cave complex (i.e., karstic geomorphology, slack water deposits, extremophile sulfidic ecosystems, speleo-archeology). Interdisciplinary studies by international teams of speleo-geologists, geochemists, radioisotopic and cosmogenic geochronologists, biologists, and archaeologists will be presented at the meeting.

Frontale quarry near Coldigioco
View of the town of Apiro in front of Monte San Vicino (image credit: C. Koeberl).

The main topics that will be emphasized as part of the program include:

  • Tectonics and Structural Geology
  • Integrated Stratigraphy and Astronomical Tuning
  • Extraterrestrial Event Stratigraphy
  • Quaternary Geology and Geo-Bio Speleology

Preliminary Agenda

Day 1: Monday, 25 Sept.: Oral and poster sessions, Apiro
Day 2: Tuesday, 26 Sept.: Oral and poster sessions, Apiro
Day 3: Wednesday, 27 Sept.: Oral and poster sessions, Apiro
Day 4: Thursday, 28 Sept.: Field trip to Gubbio and surrounds
Day 5: Friday, 29 Sept.: Field trip to Frasassi Gorge; visit to and reception at Coldigioco, with art opening

The conference will be held in the historical Teatro Mestica in the medieval hilltop town of Apiro, and the poster sessions will be set up in locales adjacent to the main theater auditorium. To the attendees arriving with their own means of transportation, accommodations in B&Bs in the immediate vicinity of Apiro are recommended, whereas for all others, a shuttle service from/to the Ancona airport or the Jesi train station can be organized; these participants will stay at the Hotel Tetto delle Marche in Cingoli (about 12 km from Apiro; half-board), and there will be bus shuttling in the morning and in the late afternoon to-and-from the conference site in Apiro. Lunches during the conference will be at the Biroccio Restaurant in Apiro. Field trips to Gubbio, Monte Conero, and Frasassi will be organized with tourist buses, using local companies. It is recommended that participants arrive in Central Italy on Sunday, 24 Sept.; the ice-breaker reception is scheduled for the evening of that day. On Saturday, 30 Sept., an optional field trip to Monte Conero will be offered.

The field trips will visit classic geological sites, such as at Gubbio, where the asteroid impact hypothesis at the K-Pg boundary started; or Massignano near Monte Conero, where the GSSP of the Eocene-Oligocene Boundary is located; or the Frasassi caves, which are the largest show caves in Italy, and thus are of great importance for the work that is discussed at the meeting.

Attendees and Estimated Costs

The normal registration fee will cover hotel lodging for six nights (double occupancy), breakfast, lunch, dinner, and coffee breaks for five days, handouts, local transportation, and transportation for the field trips. Airfare is not included and participants must make their own travel arrangements. A reduced fee will be available for those participants who have their own local transportation and accommodation arrangements. We anticipate to be able to support some students and possibly a few other participants through the generosity of our sponsors. Registration fees have not been finalized. Please watch this page for the registration fee.

Applications and Registration

Application deadline: 31 May
Registration deadline: 31 July

Participants will have to commit to attending the full five days of the conference. Attendance is limited, for logistical reasons, to 60 people. To apply, please contact the conveners at with a letter of intent that includes a brief statement of interests, the relevance of the applicant’s recent work to the themes of the Conference, the subject of a proposed presentation, and contact information. Interested graduate students and early career faculty are strongly encouraged to apply. Once you have been selected to participate, you will be sent registration information.

The Stratigraphic Record of Gubbio: Integrated Stratigraphy of the Late Cretaceous–Paleogene Umbria-Marche Pelagic Basin

This GSA Special Paper provides a reappraisal of the geological and integrated stratigraphic research, which was carried out by scores of earth scientists in the gorges around the medieval city of Gubbio over the past fifty years. Order your copy now from the GSA Store.