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[update], neither the
International Commission on Stratigraphy nor the 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
Anthropocene and presented the recommendation to the
International Geological Congress on 29 August 2016.
Various different start dates for the
Anthropocene have been proposed,
ranging from the beginning of the Agricultural Revolution 12-15,000
years ago, to as recent as the
Trinity test in 1945. As of
February 2018[update], the ratification process continues and
thus a date remains to be decided definitively, but the latter date
has been more favored than others.
3 Nature of human effects
3.6.1 Sedimentological record
3.6.2 Fossil record
3.6.3 Trace elements
4 Temporal limit
4.1 "Early anthropocene" model
4.3 Industrial Revolution
5 In culture
6 See also
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, who regards the influence of human
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
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 test in 1945 has been proposed as the start of the
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 Holocene.
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.
view • discuss • edit
Earliest stone tools
Earliest exit from Africa
Earliest fire use
Earliest in Europe
Axis scale: million years
Also see: Life timeline and Nature timeline
view • discuss • edit
Earliest sexual reproduction
Axis scale: million years
Orange labels: ice ages.
Human timeline and Nature timeline
Anthropocene is a combination of anthropo- from anthropos
(Ancient Greek: ἄνθρωπος) meaning "human" and -cene from
kainos (Ancient Greek: καινός) meaning "new" or
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 the 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
Homogenocene (from old Greek: homo-, same geno-, kind, kainos-, new
and -cene, period) is a more specific term used to define our current
geological epoch, in which biodiversity is diminishing and
biogeography and ecosystems around the globe seem more and more
similar to one another mainly due to invasive species that have been
introduced around the globe either on purpose (crops, livestock) or
The term Homogenocene was first used by Michael Samways in his
editorial article in the Journal of Insect Conservation from 1999
titled Translocating fauna to foreign lands: here comes the
The term was used again by John L. Curnutt in the year 2000 in
Ecology, in a short list titled A Guide to the Homogenocene  which
reviewed Alien species in North America and Hawaii: impacts on natural
ecosystems by George Cox. Charles C. Mann, in his acclaimed book 1493:
Uncovering the New World Columbus Created gives a bird's eye view of
the mechanisms and ongoing implications of the homogenocene.
Holocene extinction and biodiversity loss
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.[need quotation to verify] Some
authors have postulated that without human impacts the biodiversity of
the planet would continue to grow at an exponential rate.
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 conservationists;
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
Earth were already extinct, threatening the basis for human existence
Main article: Biogeography
Permanent changes in the distribution of organisms from human
influence will become identifiable in the geologic record. Researchers
have documented the movement of many species into regions formerly too
cold for them, often at rates faster than initially expected. This
has occurred in part as a result of changing climate, but also in
response to farming and fishing, and to the accidental introduction of
non-native species to new areas through 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.
Main article: 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[update], anthropogenic net emissions of CO2
increased atmospheric concentration by a comparable amount from 280
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.
It has been suggested the deposition of calthemite formations are one
example of a natural process which has not previously occurred prior
to the human modification of the Earth's surface, and therefore
represents a unique process of the Anthropocene.
Calthemite is a
secondary deposit, derived from concrete, lime, mortar or other
calcareous material outside the cave environment. Calthemites
grow on or under, man-made structures (including mines and tunnels)
and mimic the shapes and forms of cave speleothems, such as
stalactites, stalagmites, flowstone etc.
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
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 global concentration of radionuclides was in 1965, 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
Main article: Early anthropocene
While much of the environmental change occurring on
Earth is suspected
to be a direct consequence of the Industrial Revolution, William
Ruddiman has argued that the proposed
Anthropocene began 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 the current 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 of Holocene, the Subatlantic.
At this time, the
Roman Empire encompassed large portions of Europe,
the Middle East, and North Africa. In
China the classical dynasties
were flowering. The
Middle kingdoms of India
Middle kingdoms of India had already the largest
economy of the ancient and medieval world. The Napata/Meroitic kingdom
extended over the current
Sudan and Ethiopia. The Olmecs controlled
Mexico and 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
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
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
and 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
geologists (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
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Wikiquote has quotations related to: Anthropocene
Anthropocene in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Welcome to the
Anthropocene on YouTube
100,000,000 Years From Now on YouTube
(2014) Noam Chomsky: The
Anthropocene Period and its Challenges on
Working Group on The 'Anthropocene', International Commission on
"Anthropocene", Encyclopedia of Earth
Welcome to the
Aarhus University Research on The
Anthropocene Project at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin
The Advent of the Anthropocene: Was That the Big Story of the 20th
Century? (audio lecture)
Human Impact on Climate Change (2017) & Yale University
Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn
(July 2017), The New York Times
Geologic history of Earth
Quaternary (present–2.588 Mya)
Holocene (present–11.784 kya)
Pleistocene (11.784 kya–2.588 Mya)
Neogene (2.588–23.03 Mya)
Pliocene (2.588–5.333 Mya)
Miocene (5.333–23.03 Mya)
Paleogene (23.03–66.0 Mya)
Oligocene (23.03–33.9 Mya)
Eocene (33.9–56.0 Mya)
Paleocene (56.0–66.0 Mya)
Cretaceous (66.0–145.0 Mya)
Late (66.0–100.5 Mya)
Early (100.5–145.0 Mya)
Jurassic (145.0–201.3 Mya)
Late (145.0–163.5 Mya)
Middle (163.5–174.1 Mya)
Early (174.1–201.3 Mya)
Triassic (201.3–251.902 Mya)
Late (201.3–237 Mya)
Middle (237–247.2 Mya)
Early (247.2–251.902 Mya)
Permian (251.902–298.9 Mya)
Lopingian (251.902–259.8 Mya)
Guadalupian (259.8–272.3 Mya)
Cisuralian (272.3–298.9 Mya)
Carboniferous (298.9–358.9 Mya)
Pennsylvanian (298.9–323.2 Mya)
Mississippian (323.2–358.9 Mya)
Devonian (358.9–419.2 Mya)
Late (358.9–382.7 Mya)
Middle (382.7–393.3 Mya)
Early (393.3–419.2 Mya)
Silurian (419.2–443.8 Mya)
Pridoli (419.2–423.0 Mya)
Ludlow (423.0–427.4 Mya)
Wenlock (427.4–433.4 Mya)
Llandovery (433.4–443.8 Mya)
Ordovician (443.8–485.4 Mya)
Late (443.8–458.4 Mya)
Middle (458.4–470.0 Mya)
Early (470.0–485.4 Mya)
Cambrian (485.4–541.0 Mya)
Furongian (485.4–497 Mya)
Series 3 (497–509 Mya)
Series 2 (509–521 Mya)
Terreneuvian (521–541.0 Mya)
(541.0 Mya–2.5 Gya)
Neoproterozoic era (541.0 Mya–1 Gya)
Ediacaran (541.0-~635 Mya)
Cryogenian (~635-~720 Mya)
Tonian (~720 Mya-1 Gya)
Mesoproterozoic era (1–1.6 Gya)
Stenian (1-1.2 Gya)
Ectasian (1.2-1.4 Gya)
Calymmian (1.4-1.6 Gya)
Paleoproterozoic era (1.6–2.5 Gya)
Statherian (1.6-1.8 Gya)
Orosirian (1.8-2.05 Gya)
Rhyacian (2.05-2.3 Gya)
Siderian (2.3-2.5 Gya)
Archean eon² (2.5–4 Gya)
Neoarchean (2.5–2.8 Gya)
Mesoarchean (2.8–3.2 Gya)
Paleoarchean (3.2–3.6 Gya)
Eoarchean (3.6–4 Gya)
Hadean eon² (4–4.6 Gya)
kya = thousands years ago. Mya = millions years ago.
Gya = billions
years ago.¹ =
Phanerozoic eon. ² =
Source: (2017/02). International Commission on Stratigraphy. Retrieved
13 July 2015. Divisions of Geologic Time—Major Chronostratigraphic
and Geochronologic Units USGS Retrieved 10 March 2013.
Human impact on the environment
List of issues
pharmaceuticals and personal care
Runaway climate change
Land surface effects on climate
Loss of green belts
Climate change mitigation
Earth system governance
Global catastrophic risk
Human impact on the environment
Earth Overshoot Day
Sustainability marketing myopia
Systemic change resistance
Tragedy of the commons
Climate change mitigation
Sustainability metrics and indices
Standards and certification
Education for Sustainable Development
Urban drainage systems
UN Conference on the
Human Environment (Stockholm 1972)
Brundtlandt Commission Report (1983)
Our Common Future
Our Common Future (1987)
Earth Summit (1992)
Rio Declaration on Environment and Development
Agenda 21 (1992)
Convention on Biological Diversity
Convention on Biological Diversity (1992)
ICPD Programme of Action (1994)
UN Millennium Declaration (2000)
Earth Summit 2002 (Rio+10, Johannesburg)
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development
United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20, 2012)
Sustainable Development Goals