Welcome to the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a recent and informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth’s ecosystems. The term was coined by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer but has been widely popularized by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, who regards the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological era for its lithosphere.

In 2008 a proposal was presented to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological time. A large majority of that Stratigraphy Commission decided the proposal had merit and should therefore be examined further. Steps are being taken by independent working groups of scientists from various geological societies to determine if the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale.

Many scientists are now using the term and the Geological Society of America titled its 2011 annual meeting: Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future. The Anthropocene has no precise start date, but based on atmospheric evidence may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late 18th century). Other scientists link it to earlier events, such as the rise of agriculture. Evidence of relative human impact such as the growing human influence on land use, ecosystems, biodiversity and species extinction is controversial, some scientists believe the human impact has significantly changed (or halted) the growth of biodiversity. The Anthropocene may have begun as early as 14,000 to 15,000 years before present, based on lithospheric evidence; this has led other scientists to suggest that “the onset of the Anthropocene should be extended back many thousand years”; this would be closely synchronous with the current term, Holocene.

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