Working Group on the ‘Anthropocene’

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:


Colin Waters (Secretary) e-mail:
Anthony Barnosky e-mail:
Alejandro Cearreta e-mail:
Paul Crutzen e-mail:
Matt Edgeworth e-mail:
Erle Ellis e-mail:
Mike Ellis e-mail:
Ian Fairchild e-mail:
Agnieszka Gałuszka e-mail:
Philip Gibbard (Past-president SQS, chair INQUA-SACCOM) e-mail: Jacques Grinevald e-mail:
Peter Haff e-mail:
Irka Hajdas e-mail:
Martin J. Head email:
Juliana Assunção Ivar do Sul email:
Catherine Jeandel e-mail:
Reinhold Leinfelder e-mail:
John McNeill e-mail:
Cath Neal e-mail:
Eric Odada e-mail:
Naomi Oreskes e-mail:
Clément Poirier e-mail:
Dan Richter e-mail
Neil Rose e-mail:
Bill Shotyk e-mail:
Will Steffen e-mail:
Colin Summerhayes e-mail:
James Syvitski e-mail:
Davor Vidas e-mail:
Michael Wagreich e-mail:
Mark Williams e-mail:
Scott Wing e-mail:
Alex Wolfe e-mail:
An Zhisheng e-mail:

Working Group communications:

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.


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.







  • 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.