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:
Prof. Jan Zalasiewicz (Leicester) e-mail: email@example.com
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 [http://firstname.lastname@example.org] e-mail: email@example.com
Philip Gibbard (Past-president SQS, chair INQUA-SACCOM) e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacques Grinevald e-mail: email@example.com
Peter Haff e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Irka Hajdas [http://email@example.com] e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alan Haywood e-mail: A.Haywood@leeds.ac.uk
Martin J. Head email: email@example.com
Catherine Jeandel e-mail: Catherine.Jeandel@legos.obs-mip.fr
Andrew Kerr e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reinhold Leinfelder e-mail email@example.com
John McNeill e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cath Neal [http://email@example.com] e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Carlos Nobre e-mail: email@example.com
Eric Odada e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Naomi Oreskes e-mail: email@example.com
Clément Poirier e-mail Clement.firstname.lastname@example.org
Simon Price e-mail: email@example.com
Andrew Revkin e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Dan Richter e-mail email@example.com
Mary Scholes e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Victoria C. Smith [http://email@example.com] e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Will Steffen e-mail: email@example.com
Colin Summerhayes [http://firstname.lastname@example.org] e-mail: email@example.com
James Syvitski e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Davor Vidas e-mail Davor.Vidas@fni.no
Michael Wagreich e-mail: email@example.com
Mark Williams e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Wing [http://email@example.com] e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alex Wolfe e-mail: email@example.com
An Zhisheng e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Working Group communications:
- Letter to potential members
- Outline of working group activities
- Newsletter No.1 2009
- Newsletter No.2 2010
- Newsletter No.3 2012
- Newsletter No.4 2013
- Newsletter No.5 2014
Links to publications and communications on the ‘Anthropocene’
- 15.1.2015 Article in the Berlin daily newspaper Der Tagesspiegel – Anthropozän : Fallout und Plastik markieren das Menschenzeitalter.
- 16.1.2015 Article in the München (Munich) daily newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung – Am Limit (At the limit).
- Rocks made of plastic found on Hawaiian beach. Angus Chen reports on a new type of rock cobbled together from plastic, volcanic rock, beach sand, seashells, and corals that has begun forming on the shores of Hawaii on the Science website.
- Archaeologists say that the ‘Anthropocene’ is here – but it began long ago. Science 340 19.04.13. The discussion can be viewed on the Sciencewebsite and YouTube.
- «Sommes-nous entrés dans l’Anthropocène » La Recherche. n°474 p. 79. – 28.03.13.
- A discussion with the Anthropocene Working Group – a round table discussion recorded as part of the Generation Anthropocene podcast. Anthropocene Working Group members Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Mike
Ellis, and Davor Vidas discuss how we define geological boundaries, what makes the Anthropocene boundary different, and society implications for creating a new geological time division.
- Anthropocene – Nature and Technology in the Age of Humans – A Special Exhibition at the Deutsches Museum (2014-2015).
- PAGES Open Science Meeting in Goa (13-16. February 2013). Session OSM13. Past warm periods informing the Anthropocene.
- The Anthropocene Project – An Opening. Berlin. 10-13 January 2013.
- ‘The ‘Anthropocene’ as Environmental Meme and/or Geological Epoch‘. Report in the New York Times 17.9.12.
- Geologists drive golden spike toward Anthropocene’s base by Paul Voosen, E&E reporter Greenwire: Monday, 17.9.12.
- An article presenting the details of the concept of the Anthropocene and the division of geological time (published in the August 2012 issue of the french magazine Science et Vie 2012).
- Comment in The Guardian newspaper 23 July 2009: A force of nature: our influential Anthropocene period by Simon Lewis.
- Ellis, Erle (Lead Author); Jay Gulledge (Topic Editor). 2008. “Anthropocene.” In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth August 25, 2008; Last revised September 10, 2008; Retrieved August 17, 2009].
- Published – Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Will Steffen & Paul Crutzen 2010 The New World of the Anthropocene Environ. Sci. Technol., 44, 2228–2231.
- New Earth Epoch Has Begun, Scientists Say – article on National Geographic.com about the Anthropocene published 6.4.10.
- Mankind leaves mark on the planet with the end of the 12,000-year Holocene age. – report in the Independent newspaper 6.4.10.
- Introducing the Anthropocene – A brand-new name for the geologic present by Andrew Alden, About.com Guide.
- Now published (1 February 2011) – The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time? Theme Issue compiled and edited by Mark Williams, Jan Zalasiewicz, Alan Haywood and Mike Ellis. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A369, 835-1112.
- Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man. It’s a new name for a new geologic epoch—one defined by our own massive impact on the planet. That mark will endure in the geologic record long after our cities have crumbled.
By Elizabeth Kolbert on the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC website, published March 2011.
- The Dawn of the Anthropocene Era – ‘We Are the Top Predator on Earth’– article in Der Spiegel Online interview with Jan Zalasiewicz – 5.03.11
- Anthropocene: a new geological epoch? Jan Zalasiewicz from the University of Leicester explains his idea that humans may have changed the planet so much since the industrial revolution we’ve started a whole new geological era, on the Guardian Website – 16.5.11.
- ‘Welcome to the Anthropocene’ – article in The Economist. – 26.5.11.
- Correpondence on Anthropocene concept from Geoscientist magazine 22.7.11.
- Mulling the Anthropocene – Andrew Alden of About.com Geology comments on a lunchtime panel discussion at the Geological Society of America October meeting that considered the rise in the ‘Anthropocene concept’. 10.10.11
- A website [www.anthropocene.info – link no longer working, as of May 2015] devoted to the ‘Anthropocene’ question 27.6.12.
**Note on the term Anthropogene
Excerpt from: Nilsson, T. 1983 The Pleistocene. Reidel, Dordrecht, p. 23-4.
Soviet scientists discarded the concept of an integrated Tertiary Period. They followed certain non-Russian writers in classifying the divisions Paleogene and Neogene as periods, which they divided into the conventional epochs. Being (as they saw it) a relic of an antiquated classification, the term Quaternary, too, had been abandoned and replaced by the designation Anthropogene (analogous to Paleogene, Neogene), though its conceptional meaning remained unaltered (cf. i.a. Gerasimov, 1979). The Quaternary or Anthropogene retained the rank of a period. Linguistically, however, the term Anthropogene seems less fortunate.
With similar motivation, Czechoslovakian geologists used the term Anthropozoikum as a synonym for Quaternary. Procedures of this kind clearly over-emphasize the significance of the changes that serve to distinguish the Quaternary.
Reference: Gerasimov, I.P. 1979 Anthropogene and its major problem. Boreas 8, 23-30