What is the ‘Anthropocene’? – current definition and status
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming. the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals. environmental conditions generated by these perturbations; these include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic ‘dead zones’. the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is not a formally defined geological unit within the Geological Time Scale. A proposal to formalise the ‘Anthropocene’ is being developed by the ‘Anthropocene’ Working Group for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, with a current target date of 2016. Care should be taken to distinguish the concept of an ‘Anthropocene‘ from the previously used term Anthropogene (cf. below**).
- The ‘Anthropocene’ is currently being considered by the Working Group as a potential geological epoch, i.e. at the same hierarchical level as the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, with the implication that it is within the Quaternary Period, but that the Holocene has terminated. It might, alternatively, also be considered at a lower (Age) hierarchical level; that would imply it is a subdivision of the ongoing Holocene Epoch.
- Broadly, to be accepted as a formal term the ‘Anthropocene’ needs to be (a) scientifically justified (i.e. the ‘geological signal’ currently being produced in strata now forming must be sufficiently large, clear and distinctive) and (b) useful as a formal term to the scientific community. In terms of (b), the currently informal term ‘Anthropocene’ has already proven to be very useful to the global change research community and thus will continue to be used, but it remains to be determined whether formalisation within the Geological Time Scale would make it more useful or broaden its usefulness to other scientific communities, such as the geological community.
- The beginning of the ‘Anthropocene’ is most generally considered to be at c. 1800 CE, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Crutzen’s original suggestion); other potential candidates for time boundaries have been suggested, at both earlier dates (within or even before the Holocene) or later (e.g. at the start of the nuclear age). A formal ‘Anthropocene‘ might be defined either with reference to a particular point within a stratal section, that is, a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP), colloquially known as a ‘golden spike; or, by a designated time boundary (a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age).
- The ‘Anthropocene’ has emerged as a popular scientific term used by scientists, the scientifically engaged public and the media to designate the period of Earth’s history during which humans have a decisive influence on the state, dynamics and future of the Earth system. It is widely agreed that the Earth is currently in this state.
Working group convenor:
Colin Waters (Secretary) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony Barnosky e-mail: email@example.com
Alejandro Cearreta e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul Crutzen e-mail: email@example.com
Matt Edgeworth e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Erle Ellis e-mail: email@example.com
Mike Ellis e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ian Fairchild e-mail: email@example.com
Agnieszka Gałuszka e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Gibbard (Past-president SQS, chair INQUA-SACCOM) e-mail: email@example.com Jacques Grinevald e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Haff e-mail: email@example.com
Irka Hajdas e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Martin J. Head email: email@example.com
Juliana Assunção Ivar do Sul email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Catherine Jeandel e-mail: email@example.com
Reinhold Leinfelder e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
John McNeill e-mail: email@example.com
Cath Neal e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Eric Odada e-mail: email@example.com
Naomi Oreskes e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Clément Poirier e-mail: email@example.com
Dan Richter e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Neil Rose e-mail: email@example.com
Bill Shotyk e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Will Steffen e-mail: email@example.com
Colin Summerhayes e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
James Syvitski e-mail: email@example.com
Davor Vidas e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Michael Wagreich e-mail: email@example.com
Mark Williams e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Wing e-mail: email@example.com
Alex Wolfe e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
An Zhisheng e-mail: email@example.com
Working Group communications:
- Newsletter No.1 2009
- Newsletter No.2 2010
- Newsletter No.3 2012
- Newsletter No.4 2013
- Newsletter No.5 2014
- Newsletter No.6 2015
- Newsletter No.7 2017
- Newsletter No.8 2018
Publications of the Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’
- Williams, M. et al. (In press). Underground metro systems: a durable geological proxy of rapid urban population growth and energy consumption during the Anthropocene. In Craig Benjamin, Esther Quaedakers and David Baker (Eds.) Anthropocene: The Routledge Handbook of Big History (Routledge Companions). Oxon: Taylor & Francis.
- Cooper, Anthony H.et al. 2018 Humans are the most significant global geomorphological driving force of the 21st Century.Anthropocene Review. 1-8.
- Summerhayes, C. and Zalsiewicz, J. 2018. Global warming and the Anthropocene. Geology Today, 34(5): 194-200.
- Waters, C N. et al. 2018. A Global Boundary Stratotype Sections and Points (GSSPs) for the Anthropocene Series: Where and how to look for a potential candidate. Earth-Sci. Rev., 178, 379-429.
- Waters, C N. et al. 2018. How to date natural archives of the Anthropocene. Geology Today, 34(5):182-187.
- Waters, C N. and Zalasiewicz, J. 2018. Concrete: the most abundant novel rock type of the Anthropocene. In Dominick A. DellaSala and Michael I. Goldstein (Eds.), The Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene: Vol. 1 (75-85). Oxford: Elsevier.
- Williams, M. et al. 2018. The palaeontological record of the Anthropocene. Geology Today, 24(5): 188-193.
- Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2018. The Anthropocene. Geology Today, 34(5): 177-181.
- Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2018. The stratigraphical signature of the Anthropocene in England and its wider context. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 129(3): 482-491.
- Zalasiewicz, J., Gabbott, S E. and Waters, C N. (In press). Plastic Waste: how plastic has become part of the Earth’s geological cycle. In Trevor M. Letcher and Dan A Vallero (Eds.) Waste: A Handbook for Management. New York: Elsevier.
- Zalasiewicz, J, and Waters, C N. 2018. Arguments for an official Global Stratotype Section and Point for the Anthropocene. In Dominick A. DellaSala and Michael I. Goldstein (Eds.) The Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene: Vol. 1 (29-34). Oxford: Elsevier.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN et al. (Eds.) (in press). The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit. CUP.
The Anthropocene, a term launched into public debate by Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen, has been used informally to describe the time interval during which human actions have had a drastic effect on the Earth and its ecosystems, including anthropogenic climate change. This book presents the underpinning geological evidence for defining the Anthropocene as a geological epoch, written by the high-profile international team tasked with analysing its potential addition to the Geological Time Scale. It discusses Anthropocene stratigraphy and ongoing changes to the Earth system, including the climate, oceans and biosphere.
The evidence for the Anthropocene is examined in detail, ranging from chemical signals arising from pollution, to physical changes to the landscape associated with urbanisation and biological changes associated with species invasion and extinctions. The scale, manner and rate of global environmental change is placed within the context of planetary processes and deep geological time, allowing the reader to appreciate the scale of human-driven change to the Earth system, and compare the global transition taking place today with major transitions in Earth history. Key aspects of the geological background are explained, providing an authoritative review of the Anthropocene for graduate students and academic researchers across a broad range of scientific, social science and humanities disciplines.
- Grinevald, J. et al. 2017. Les preuves jusifiant une nouvelle période géologique ne manquent pas. La Recherche, 520: 87-88.
- Williams, M., Zalasiewicz, J. and Waters, C N. 2017. The Anthropocene: a geological perspective. In Heikkurinen, P. (Ed.), Sustainability and Peaceful Coexistence for the Anthropocene. Oxon: Taylor & Francis.
- Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, C N. and Williams, M. 2017. Les strates de la ville de l’Anthropocène. Annels, Histoire, Sciences Sociales, 72(2): 329-351.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN & Head, MJ 2017. Anthropocene: its stratigraphic basis. Nature, 541 (7637): 289.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN et al. 2017. Making the case for a formal Anthropocene Epoch: an analysis of ongoing critiques. Newsletters on Stratigraphy, 50(2): 205-226.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Williams, M, Waters, CN et al. 2017. Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective. Rev., 4(1): 9-22.
- Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2017. The geological and Earth System reality of the Anthropocene: Reply to Bauer and Ellis. Current Anthropology, 59(2): 220-223.
- Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2017. The Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’: Summary of evidence and recommendations. Anthropocene 19: 55-60.
- Edgeworth, M. et al. 2016. Second Anthropocene Working Group Meeting (Conference Report). The European Archaeologist 47.
- Steffen, W, Leinfelder, R, Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN et al. 2016. Stratigraphic and Earth System Approaches to Defining the Anthropocene. Earth’s Future. DOI: 10.1002/2016EF000379.
- Waters, CN et al. 2016. The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene. Science, 351 (6269): 137.
- Williams, M. et al. The Anthropocene: a conspicuous stratigraphical signal of anthropogenic changes in production and consumption across the biosphere. Earth’s Future 4(3): 34-53.
- Zalasiewicz, J., Waters, CN et al. 2016. The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, 13: 4-17.
- Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M. and Waters, C N. 2016. Anthropocene. In Joni Adamson, William A. Gleason, and David N. Pellow (Eds.) Keywords in the Study of Environment and Culture (14-16). New York: NYU Press.
- Zalasiewicz, J. et al. 2016. Petrifying earth process: the stratigraphic imprint of key earth parameters in the Anthropocene. Theory, Culture & Society, 34(2-3): 83-104.
- Zalasiewics, J. et al. 2016 Scale and diversity of the physical technosphere: a geological perspective. The Anthropocene Review, 4(1): 9-22.
- Edgeworth, M, Richter, D DeB, Waters, CN et al. Diachronous beginnings of the Anthropocene: The lower bounding surface of anthropogenic deposits. Anth. Rev. 2(1): 1-26.
- Waters, CN et al. 2015. Can nuclear weapons fallout mark the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch? Atom. Sci., 71(3): 46-57.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN et al. Colonization of the Americas, ‘Little Ice Age’ climate, and bomb-produced carbon: Their role in defining the Anthropocene. Anth. Rev., 2(2): 117-127.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN et al. When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal. Quat. Int., 383: 196-203.
- Zalasiewicz, J. and Waters, C N. 2015. The Anthropocene. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Environmental Science. Framing Concepts in Environmental Science.
- Waters, CN et al. 2014. A Stratigraphical basis for the Anthropocene. Geological Society, London, Special Publication, 395, 321pp.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Waters, CN & Williams, M 2014. Human bioturbation, and the subterranean landscape of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, 6: 3-9.
- Zalasiewicz, J, Williams, M, Waters, CN et al. 2014. The technofossil records of humans. Rev., 1(1), 34-43.
- Williams, M et al. (Eds.) 2011. Theme issue ‘The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?’ Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369(1938).
- Zalasiewicz, J, Williams, M, Smith, A, Barry, TL, Coe, AL, Bown, PR, Brenchley, P, Cantrill, D, Gale, A, Gibbard, P, Gregory, FJ, Hounslow, MW, Kerr, AC, Pearson, P, Knox, R, Powell, JH, Waters, CN et al. 2008. Are we living in the Anthropocene? GSA Today, 18(2): 4-8.
- Steffen, W et al. 2007. The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming the Great Forces of Nature? Ambio 36(8): 614-621.
- Crutzen, P.J. 2002. Geology of Mankind. Nature 415(6867), 23.
- Crutzen, P.J. & Stoermer, E.F. 2000. The “Anthropocene”. Global Change Newsletter 41: 17-18.