The ANTHROPOCENE is a proposed epoch dating from the commencement of
significant human impact on the
Earth 's geology and ecosystems ,
including, but not limited to, anthropogenic climate change. As of
August 2016 , neither the
International Commission on Stratigraphy nor
International Union of Geological Sciences has yet officially
approved the term as a recognized subdivision of geological time ,
although the Working Group on the
Anthropocene (WGA) voted to formally
designate the epoch
Anthropocene and presented the recommendation to
the International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016.
* 1 General
* 2 Etymology
* 3 Nature of human effects
* 3.3 Climate
* 3.4 Geomorphology
* 3.5 Stratigraphy
* 3.5.1 Sedimentological record
* 3.5.2 Fossil record
* 3.5.3 Trace elements
* 4 Temporal limit
* 4.1 "Early anthropocene" model
* 4.2 Antiquity
* 5 In culture
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Further reading
* 9 External links
An early concept for the
Anthropocene was the
Noosphere by Vladimir
Vernadsky , in 1938 he wrote of “scientific thought as a geological
force”. Scientists in the
Soviet Union appear to have used the term
"anthropocene" as early as the 1960s to refer to the
Quaternary , the
most recent geological period . Ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer
subsequently used "anthropocene" with a different sense in the 1980s
and the term was widely popularized in 2000 by atmospheric chemist
Paul J. Crutzen
Paul J. Crutzen , who regards the influence of human behavior on
Earth's atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to
constitute a new geological epoch .
In 2008, the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of
London considered a proposal to make the
Anthropocene a formal unit of
geological epoch divisions. A majority of the commission decided the
proposal had merit and should be examined further. Independent working
groups of scientists from various geological societies have begun to
determine whether the
Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the
Geological Time Scale .
The term "anthropocene" is informally used in scientific contexts.
Geological Society of America entitled its 2011 annual meeting:
Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future. The new
epoch has no agreed start-date, but one proposal, based on atmospheric
evidence, is to fix the start with the
Industrial Revolution c. 1780,
with the invention of the steam engine. Other scientists link the
new term to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture and the
Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP ). Evidence of relative
human impact - such as the growing human influence on land use,
ecosystems, biodiversity , and species extinction - is substantial;
scientists think that human impact has significantly changed (or
halted) the growth of biodiversity. Those arguing for earlier dates
posit that the proposed
Anthropocene may have begun as early as 14,000
to 15,000 years before present , based on geologic evidence; this has
led other scientists to suggest that "the onset of the Anthropocene
should be extended back many thousand years"; :1 this would be closely
synchronous with the current term,
Holocene . Trinity site, New
Mexico, on July 16th 1945, 05:29:21 MDT , 16 milliseconds after the
proposed start of the Anthropocene.
In January 2015, 26 of the 38 members of the International
Anthropocene Working Group published a paper suggesting the Trinity
test on 16 July 1945 as the starting point of the proposed new epoch.
However a significant minority supports one of several alternative
dates. A March 2015 report suggested either 1610 or 1964 as the
beginning of Anthropocene. Other scholars point to the diachronous
character of the physical strata of the Anthropocene, arguing that
onset and impact are spread out over time, not reducible to a single
instant or date of start.
A January 2016 report on the climatic, biological, and geochemical
signatures of human activity in sediments and ice cores suggested the
era since the mid-20th century should be recognised as a distinct
geological epoch from the
Anthropocene Working Group met in Oslo in April 2016 to
consolidate evidence supporting the argument for the
Anthropocene as a
true geologic epoch. Evidence was evaluated and the group voted to
recommend "Anthropocene" as the new geological age in August 2016.
International Commission on Stratigraphy approve the
recommendation, the proposal to adopt the term will have to be
ratified by the
International Union of Geological Sciences before its
formal adoption as part of the geologic time scale .
Human timeline view • discuss • edit -10 — – -9 — –
-8 — – -7 — – -6 — – -5 — – -4 — – -3 — – -2
— – -1 — – 0 — Human-like
Australopithecus HOMO HABILIS HOMO ERECTUS
NEANDERTHAL HOMO SAPIENS ← Earlier apes
← Separation from gorillas ← Possibly bipedal ←
Separation from chimpanzees ← Earliest bipedal ←
Earliest stone tools ← Earliest exit from Africa ←
Earliest fire use ← Earliest in
Europe ← Earliest
cooking ← Earliest clothes ← Modern speech ←
Axis scale : millions of years .
Also see: Life timeline and Nature timeline Life timeline view
• discuss • edit -4500 — – -4000 — – -3500 — – -3000
— – -2500 — – -2000 — – -1500 — – -1000 — – -500
— – 0 — WATER Single-celled
life PHOTOSYNTHESIS EUKARYOTES Multicellular
life LAND LIFE DINOSAURS MAMMALS FLOWERS ←
Earth (−4540 ) ← Earliest water ← Earliest
life ← LHB meteorites ← Earliest oxygen ←
Atmospheric oxygen ← Oxygen crisis ← Earliest sexual
reproduction ← Ediacara biota ←
← Earliest humans P
n Pongola Huronian
Cryogenian Andean Karoo
Axis scale : millions of years .
Orange labels: known ICE AGES.
Human timeline and Nature timeline
Anthropocene is a combination of anthropo- from anthropos
Ancient Greek : ἄνθρωπος) meaning "human" and -cene from
Ancient Greek : καινός) meaning "new" or "recent."
As early as 1873, the Italian geologist
Antonio Stoppani acknowledged
the increasing power and effect of humanity on the Earth's systems and
referred to an 'anthropozoic era'.
Although the biologist
Eugene Stoermer is often credited with coining
the term "anthropocene", it was in informal use in the mid-1970s. Paul
Crutzen is credited with independently re-inventing and popularizing
it. Stoermer wrote, "I began using the term 'anthropocene' in the
1980s, but never formalized it until Paul contacted me". Crutzen has
explained, "I was at a conference where someone said something about
Holocene . I suddenly thought this was wrong. The world has
changed too much. So I said: 'No, we are in the Anthropocene.' I just
made up the word on the spur of the moment. Everyone was shocked. But
it seems to have stuck." :21 In 2008, Zalasiewicz suggested in GSA
Today that an anthropocene epoch is now appropriate.
NATURE OF HUMAN EFFECTS
Human impact on the environment
The human impact on biodiversity forms one of the primary attributes
of the Anthropocene. Humankind has entered what is sometimes called
the Earth's sixth major extinction. Most experts agree that human
activities have accelerated the rate of species extinction. The exact
rate remains controversial – perhaps 100 to 1000 times the normal
background rate of extinction. A 2010 study found that "marine
phytoplankton – the vast range of tiny algae species accounting for
roughly half of Earth's total photosynthetic biomass – had declined
substantially in the world's oceans over the past century. From 1950
alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to
ocean warming – and that the decline had gathered pace in recent
years. Some authors have postulated that without human impacts the
biodiversity of the planet would continue to grow at an exponential
rate. – implying that human activities accelerate or exacerbate
Increases in global rates of extinction have been elevated above
background rates since at least 1500, and appear to have accelerated
in the 19th century and further since. A 13 July 2012 New York Times
op-ed by ecologist Roger Bradbury predicted the end of biodiversity
for the oceans, labelling coral reefs doomed: "Coral reefs will be the
first, but certainly not the last, major ecosystem to succumb to the
Anthropocene." This op-ed quickly generated much discussion among
The Nature Conservancy
The Nature Conservancy rebutted Bradbury on its
website, defending its position of protecting coral reefs despite
continued human impacts causing reef declines.
In a pair of studies published in 2015, extrapolation from observed
extinction of Hawaiian snails led to the conclusion that "the
biodiversity crisis is real", and that 7% of all species on
have disappeared already.
Human predation was noted as being unique
in the history of life on
Earth as being a globally distributed
'superpredator', with predation of the adults of other apex predators
and with widespread impacts on food webs worldwide. A study published
in May 2017 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences posited
that a “biological annihilation” akin to a sixth mass extinction
event is underway as a result of anthropogenic causes, such as human
overpopulation , continued population growth and overconsumption ,
particularly by the wealthy. The study suggested that as much as 50%
of the number of animal individuals that once lived on
already extinct, threatening the basis for human existence too.
Permanent changes in the distribution of organisms from human
influence will be identifiable in the geologic record. Many species
have been documented moving into regions that were once too cold for
them, often at rates faster than initially expected. This has
occurred in part as a result of evolving climate, but also in response
to farming and fishing, and the accidental introduction of non-native
species to new areas by global travel. The ecosystem of the entire
Black Sea may have changed during the last 2000 years as a result of
nutrient and silica input from eroding deforested lands along the
Danube River .
Anthropogenic climate change
Anthropogenic climate change
One geological symptom resulting from human activity is increasing
atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content. During the
glacial–interglacial cycles of the past million years, natural
processes have varied CO2 by approximately 100 ppm (from 180 ppm to
280 ppm). As of 2013 , anthropogenic net emissions of CO2 increased
atmospheric concentration by a comparable amount from 280 ppm
Holocene or pre-industrial "equilibrium") to approximately 400 ppm,
with 2015–16 monthly monitoring data of CO2 displaying a rising
trend above 400 ppm. This signal in the Earth's climate system is
especially significant because it is occurring much faster, and to a
greater extent, than previous, similar changes. Most of this increase
is due to the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal , oil , and gas
, although smaller fractions are the result of cement production and
land-use changes (e.g. deforestation ).
Changes in drainage patterns traceable to human activity will persist
over geologic time in large parts of the continents where the geologic
regime is erosional. This includes the paths of roads and highways
defined by their grading and drainage control. Direct changes to the
form of the Earth's surface by human activities (e.g., quarrying,
landscaping) also record human impacts.
Human activities like deforestation and road construction are
believed to have elevated average total sediment fluxes across the
Earth's surface. However, construction of dams on many rivers around
the world means the rates of sediment deposition in any given place do
not always appear to increase in the Anthropocene. For instance, many
river deltas around the world are actually currently starved of
sediment by such dams, and are subsiding and failing to keep up with
sea level rise, rather than growing.
Increases in erosion due to farming and other operations will be
reflected by changes in sediment composition and increases in
deposition rates elsewhere. In land areas with a depositional regime,
engineered structures will tend to be buried and preserved, along with
litter and debris. Litter and debris thrown from boats or carried by
rivers and creeks will accumulate in the marine environment,
particularly in coastal areas. Such manmade artifacts preserved in
stratigraphy are known as "technofossils".
Changes in biodiversity will also be reflected in the fossil record,
as will species introductions. An example cited is the domestic
chicken, originally the red junglefowl Gallus gallus, native to
south-east Asia but has since become the world's most common bird
through human breeding and consumption, with over 60 billion consumed
a year and whose bones would become fossilized in landfill sites.
In terms of trace elements, there are distinct signatures left by
modern societies. For example, in the
Upper Fremont Glacier in
Wyoming, there is a layer of chlorine present in ice cores from 1960s
atomic weapon testing programs, as well as a layer of mercury
associated with coal plants in the 1980s. From 1945 to 1951, nuclear
fallout is found locally around atomic device test sites, whereas from
1952 to 1980, tests of thermonuclear devices have left a clear, global
signal of excess 14C, 239Pu, and other artificial radionuclides . The
highest concentration of radionuclides was in 1964, one of the dates
which has been proposed as a possible benchmark for the start of the
formally defined Anthropocene.
Human burning of fossil fuels has also left distinctly elevated
concentrations of black carbon, inorganic ash, and spherical
carbonaceous particles in recent sediments across the world.
Concentrations of these components increases markedly and almost
simultaneously around the world beginning around 1950.
Anthropocene Working Group voted on the "Base/beginning of the
Anthropocene", and most members favored some time around 1950.
"EARLY ANTHROPOCENE" MODEL
While much of the environmental change occurring on
suspected to be a direct consequence of the
Industrial Revolution ,
William Ruddiman has argued that the proposed
approximately 8,000 years ago with the development of farming and
sedentary cultures. At this point, humans were dispersed across all of
the continents (except
Antarctica ), and the
Neolithic Revolution was
ongoing. During this period, humans developed agriculture and animal
husbandry to supplement or replace hunter-gatherer subsistence. Such
innovations were followed by a wave of extinctions , beginning with
large mammals and land birds . This wave was driven by both the direct
activity of humans (e.g. hunting) and the indirect consequences of
land-use change for agriculture.
From the past to present, some authors consider the
Holocene to be the same or coeval geologic time span, others
that the onset of the
Anthropocene was just a bit more recent.
Ruddiman claims that the Anthropocene, as defined by significant human
impact on greenhouse gas emissions, began not in the industrial era,
but 8,000 years ago, as ancient farmers cleared forests to grow crops.
Ruddiman's work has, in turn, been challenged on the grounds that
comparison with an earlier interglaciation ("Stage 11", approximately
400,000 years ago) suggests that 16,000 more years must elapse before
Holocene interglaciation comes to an end, and that thus
the early anthropogenic hypothesis is invalid. Ruddiman argues in
rebuttal that this results from an invalid alignment of recent
insolation maxima with insolation minima from the past, among other
irregularities, which invalidate the criticism. Furthermore, the
argument that "something" is needed to explain the differences in the
Holocene is challenged by more recent research showing that all
Although 8,000 years ago the planet sustained a few million people
and was still fundamentally pristine, this is the basis for an
assertion that an early date for the proposed
Anthropocene term does
account for a substantial human footprint on Earth.
A plausible starting point of the
Anthropocene could be at c. 2,000
years ago, which roughly coincides with the start of the final phase
Holocene , the
At this time, the
Roman Empire encompassed large portions of
the Middle East, and North Africa. In
China the classical dynasties
were flowering. The
Middle kingdoms of India had already the largest
economy of the ancient and medieval world. The Napata/Meroitic kingdom
extended over the current
Ethiopia . The Olmecs controlled
Guatemala , and the pre-Incan Chavín people
managed areas of northern
Peru . Although often apart from each other
and intermixed with buffering ecosystems, the areas directly impacted
by these civilizations and others were large. Additionally, some
activities, such as mining, implied much more widespread perturbation
of natural conditions. Over the last 11,500 years or so humans have
spread around Earth, increased in number, and profoundly altered the
material world. They have taken advantage of global environmental
conditions not of their own making.The end of the last glacial period
– when as much as 30% of Earth’s surface was ice-bound – led to
a warmer world with more water ( H2O ). Although humans existed in
Pleistocene epoch, it is only in the recent Holocene
period that they have flourished. Today there are more humans alive
than at any previous point in Earth’s history.
Crutzen proposed the
Industrial Revolution as the start of
Anthropocene. Lovelock proposes that the
Anthropocene began with the
first application of the
Newcomen atmospheric engine
Newcomen atmospheric engine in 1712. The
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change takes the pre-industrial era
(chosen as the year 1750) as the baseline related to changes in
long-lived, well mixed greenhouse gases. Although it is apparent that
Industrial Revolution ushered in an unprecedented global human
impact on the planet, much of Earth’s landscape already had been
profoundly modified by human activities. The human impact on Earth
has grown progressively, with few substantial slowdowns.
A marker that accounts for a substantial global impact of humans on
the total environment, comparable in scale to those associated with
significant perturbations of the geological past, is needed in place
of minor changes in atmosphere composition.
A useful candidate for this purpose is the pedosphere , which can
retain information of its climatic and geochemical history with
features lasting for centuries or millennia.
Human activity is now
firmly established as the sixth factor of soil formation. It affects
pedogenesis either directly, by, for example, land levelling,
trenching and embankment building for various purposes, organic matter
enrichment from additions of manure or other waste, organic matter
impoverishment due to continued cultivation, compaction from
overgrazing or, indirectly, by drift of eroded materials or
pollutants. Anthropogenic soils are those markedly affected by human
activities, such as repeated ploughing, the addition of fertilizers,
contamination, sealing, or enrichment with artefacts (in the World
Reference Base for Soil Resources they are classified as Anthrosols
Technosols ). They are recalcitrant repositories of artefacts and
properties that testify to the dominance of the human impact, and
hence appear to be reliable markers for the Anthropocene. Some
anthropogenic soils may be viewed as the ‘golden spikes’ of
Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point ), which are
locations where there are strata successions with clear evidences of a
worldwide event, including the appearance of distinctive fossils.
Drilling for fossil fuels has also created holes and tubes which are
expected to be detectable for millions of years.
The concept of the
Anthropocene has also been approached via
humanities such as philosophy, literature and art. In the scholarly
world, it has been the subject of increasing attention through special
journal issues, conferences, and disciplinary reports. The
Anthropocene, its attendant timescale, and ecological implications
prompts questions about death and the ends of civilization, memory
and archives, the scope and methods of humanistic inquiry, and
emotional responses to the "end of nature". It has been also
criticized as an ideological construct. Some environmentalists on the
political left suggest that "Capitalocene" is a more historically
appropriate term. At the same time, others suggest that the
Anthropocene is overly focused on the human species, while ignoring
systematic inequalities, such as imperialism and racism , that have
also shaped the world.
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Effects of global warming
Effects of global warming
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