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Title: Anthropocene  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Human ecology, Planetary boundaries, Novel ecosystem, Holocene, Subatlantic
Collection: Environment, Environmental Issues with Population, Holocene, Human Ecology, Neologisms
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Holocene Epoch
Preboreal (10.3–9 ka)
Boreal (9–7.5 ka)
Atlantic (7.55 ka)
Subboreal (52.5 ka)
Subatlantic (2.5 ka–present)

The Anthropocene is a proposed epoch that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth's ecosystems.[1] The term – which appears to have been used by Soviet scientists as early as the 1960s[2] to refer to the Quaternary, the most recent geological Period – was coined with a different sense in the 1980s[3] by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and has been widely popularized by 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 epoch for its lithosphere. As of April 2015, the term has not been adopted formally as part of the official nomenclature of the geological field of study.

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 epoch divisions.[4] 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 whether the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale.[5]

Nevertheless, many scientists are now using the term "anthropocene",[6] and the Geological Society of America entitled its 2011 annual meeting: Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future.[7] The Anthropocene has no agreed start date, but some scientists propose that, based on atmospheric evidence, it may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century).[4][8] 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 controversial; some scientists believe the human impact has significantly changed (or halted) the growth of biodiversity.[9] 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 lithospheric evidence; this has led other scientists to suggest that "the onset of the Anthropocene should be extended back many thousand years";[10]:1 this would be closely synchronous with the current term, Holocene.

In January 2015, 26 of the 38 members of the International Anthropocene Working Group published a paper suggesting that the Trinity test on July 16, 1945, was the starting point of the proposed new epoch.[11] However a significant minority supports one of several alternative dates.[11] In March 2015, a paper published in Nature suggested either 1610 or 1964 could be the beginning of Anthropocene.[12] 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.[13]

The Anthropocene Working Group plans to meet in 2016 to submit evidence and decide whether the Anthropocene is a true geologic epoch.[14]


  • Etymology 1
  • Nature of human effects 2
    • Biodiversity 2.1
    • Biogeography 2.2
    • Climate 2.3
    • Geomorphology 2.4
    • Stratigraphy 2.5
      • Fossil record 2.5.1
      • Trace elements 2.5.2
  • Anthropocene temporal limit 3
    • "Early anthropocene" model 3.1
    • Antiquity 3.2
    • Industrial Revolution 3.3
    • Anthropocene marker 3.4
  • The Anthropocene in culture 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


The name Anthropocene is a combination of Greek roots: anthropo- (Greek: ἄνθρωπος [15]) meaning "human" and -cene meaning "new". All epochs in the Cenozoic Era end in "-cene".

The biologist Eugene Stoermer originally coined the term, but Paul Crutzen independently re-invented and popularized it. Stoermer wrote, "I began using the term 'anthropocene' in the 1980s, but never formalized it until Paul contacted me".[16] 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."[17] The term was first used in print in 2000 by Crutzen and Stoermer in a newsletter of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme.[8] In 2008, Zalasiewicz suggested in GSA Today that an anthropocene epoch is now appropriate.[4]

As early as 1873, the Italian geologist Andrew Revkin coined the term Anthrocene in his book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast (1992),[21] in which he wrote, "we are entering an age that might someday be referred to as, say, the Anthrocene. After all, it is a geological age of our own making." The name evolved into "the Anthropocene", which is generally regarded as a more suitable technical term.[22]

Nature of human effects

The Earth at night, a composited night-time image of the world during the Anthropocene


Many species have gone extinct due to human impact. Most experts agree that human activities have accelerated the rate of species extinction. The exact rate is controversial, perhaps 100 to 1000 times the normal background rate of extinction.[23] In 2010 a study published in Nature found that "marine phytoplankton – the vast range of tiny algae species accounting for roughly half of Earth's total photosynthetic biomass – have declined substantially in the world's oceans over the past century. Since 1950 alone, algal biomass decreased by around 40%, probably in response to ocean warming – and the decline has gathered pace in recent years.[24] Some authors have postulated that without human impacts the biodiversity of the planet would continue to grow at an exponential rate.[9] The implications being that global warming is accelerating due to, or exacerbated by, human activities.

A 13 July 2012 New York Times op-ed by ecologist Roger Bradbury predicted the end of biodiversity for the oceans, saying that the coral reefs are doomed, "Coral reefs will be the first, but certainly not the last, major ecosystem to succumb to the Anthropocene."[25] This op-ed quickly generated much discussion among conservationists and was rebutted on The Nature Conservancy's website, defending its position of protecting coral reefs despite continued human impacts causing reef declines.[26]

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 Earth may have been lost already.[27]


Permanent changes in the distribution of organisms from human influence will be identifiable in the geologic record.


One suspected 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, anthropogenic net emissions of CO2 have increased its atmospheric concentration by a comparable amount from 280 ppm (Holocene or pre-industrial "equilibrium") to approximately 397 ppm.[28] This signal in the Earth's climate system is especially significant because it is occurring much faster,[29] and to an enormously 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.


Fossil record

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. Changes in biodiversity will also be reflected as will species introductions. Litter and debris thrown from boats or carried by rivers and creeks will accumulate in the marine environment, particularly in coastal areas.

Trace elements

In terms of trace elements, there are distinct signatures left by modern societies. For example, in the 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.

Anthropocene temporal limit

"Early anthropocene" model

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.

This period (10,000 years to present) is usually referred to as the Holocene by geologists. For the majority of the Holocene, human populations were relatively low and their activities considerably muted relative to that of the last few centuries. Nonetheless, many of the processes currently altering the Earth's environment were already occurring during this period. Concerning the best starting date for the Anthropocene many proposals have been advanced. From the past to present, some authors consider the Anthropocene and the Holocene to be the same or coeval geologic time span,[30][31] others that the onset of the Anthropocene was just a bit more recent.[32] In fact, arguing the early Anthropocene hypothesis, William 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.[33][34][35] 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 interglacials differ.[36]

Although 8,000 years ago the planet sustained a few million people and was still fundamentally pristine,[37] is the basis for an assertion that an early date for the proposed Anthropocene term does account for a substantial human footprint on Earth.[38]


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.[39]

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 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 central Mexico and Guatemala, and the pre-Incan Chavín people managed large 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.[40]

Industrial Revolution

Crutzen proposed the Industrial Revolution as the start of Anthropocene.[18] Although it is apparent that the Industrial Revolution ushered in an unprecedented global human impact on the planet,[41] much of Earth’s landscape already had been profoundly modified by human activities.[42] Dating of the beginning of a period called Anthropocene therefore ought to be assigned to the moment when mankind joined with the other environmental forces in shaping the planet. Doing so is difficult, perhaps it is even unrealistic to identify a Year Zero of an Anthropocene era. In fact, the human impact on Earth has grown progressively, with few substantial slowdowns. Lovelock proposes that the Anthropocene began with the first application of the Newcomen atmospheric engine in 1712. Until then, the highest level of energy available throughout human history had been limited to 1 kW per square metre, from the sun.

Anthropocene marker

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.[43][44]

A useful candidate for this purpose is 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 should be hence 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.[39] Drilling for fossil fuels has also created holes and tubes which are expected to be detectable for millions of years.[47]

The Anthropocene in culture

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,[48] conferences,[49][50] and disciplinary reports.[51] The Anthropocene, its attendant timescale, and ecological implications prompts questions about death and the ends of civilization,[52] memory and archives,[53] the scope and methods of humanistic inquiry,[54] and emotional responses to the "end of nature".[55] It has been also criticized as an ideological construct.[56]

See also

External video
Welcome to the Anthropocene


  1. ^ Borenstein, Seth (14 October 2014). "With their mark on Earth, humans may name era, too".  
  2. ^ Akademii͡a nauk SSSR. "Doklady: Biological sciences sections, Volumes 132-135". google books. Retrieved 28 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (May 11, 2011). "Confronting the ‘Anthropocene’". New York Times. Retrieved 25 March 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c Zalasiewicz, Jan; et al. (2008). "Are we now living in the Anthropocene?" (PDF).  
  5. ^ Zalasiewicz, J.; et al. (2010). "The New World of the Anthropocene". Environment Science & Technology 44 (7): 2228–2231.  
  6. ^ Ehlers, Eckart; Moss, C.; Krafft, Thomas (2006). Earth System Science in the Anthropocene: Emerging Issues and Problems. Springer Science+Business Media. 
  7. ^ 2011 GSA Annual Meeting
  8. ^ a b Crutzen, P. J., and E. F. Stoermer (2000). "The 'Anthropocene'". Global Change Newsletter 41: 17–18. 
  9. ^ a b Sahney, S., Benton, M. J. and Ferry, P. A. (2010). "Links between global taxonomic diversity, ecological diversity and the expansion of vertebrates on land" (PDF). Biology Letters 6 (4): 544–547.  
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  11. ^ a b Was first nuclear test the start of new human-dominated epoch, the Anthropocene? – UC Berkeley News Centre, 2015-1-16
  12. ^ Lewis, S. L.; Maslin, M. A. (2015). "Defining the Anthropocene". Nature 519: 171–180.  
  13. ^ Edgeworth, Matt; Richter, Dan deB; Waters, Colin; Haff, Peter; Neal, Cath; Price, Simon James (2015-04-01). "Diachronous beginnings of the Anthropocene: The lower bounding surface of anthropogenic deposits". The Anthropocene Review 2 (1): 33–58.  
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  18. ^ a b Crutzen, P. J. (2002). "Geology of mankind". Nature 415 (6867): 23.  
  19. ^ Samways M (June 1999). "Translocating fauna to foreign lands: here comes the Homogenocene" (PDF). Journal of Insect Conservation 3 (2): 65–6.  
  20. ^ Curnutt J. L. (June 2000). "Book Review: A Guide to the Homogenocene". Ecology 81 (6): 1756–7.  
  21. ^ Revkin, Andrew C. (1992). Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. Abbeville Press, Incorporated.  
  22. ^ Revkin, A. (1992). The "Anthrocene" era of a human-shaped Earth. 
  23. ^ "Anthropocene: Have humans created a new geological age?". BBC News. 10 May 2011. 
  24. ^ Ocean greenery under warming stress
  25. ^ Bradbury, Roger (13 July 2012). "A World Without Coral Reefs". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
  26. ^ Wear, Stephanie (20 July 2012). "Coral Reefs: The Living Dead, Or A Comeback Kid?". Retrieved 22 July 2012. 
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  28. ^ Recent Global CO2, Earth System Research Laboratory, NOAA
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  31. ^ Certini, G. and Scalenghe, R. (2014). "Is the Anthropocene really worthy of a formal geologic definition?". The Anthropocene Review 2: 77–80.  
  32. ^ Ruddiman, WF. (2013). "The Anthropocene". The Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences 41: 45–68.  
  33. ^ Mason, Betsy (2003). "Man has been changing climate for 8,000 years".  
  34. ^ Adler, Robert (2003-12-11). "Early farmers warmed Earth's climate".  
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  37. ^ Boyle, J. F., Gaillard, M.-J., Kaplan, J. O. and Dearing, J. A. (2011). "Modelling prehistoric land use and carbon budgets: A critical review". The Holocene 21: 715–722.  
  38. ^ Certini, G. and Scalenghe, R. (2015). "Holocene as Anthropocene". Science 349: 246.  
  39. ^ a b Certini, G. and Scalenghe, R. (2011). "Anthropogenic soils are the golden spikes for the Anthropocene". The Holocene 21 (8): 1269–74.  
  40. ^ Hong, S., Candelone, J-P., Patterson, C. C. and Boutron C. F. (1994). "Greenland ice evidence of hemispheric lead pollution two millennia ago by Greek and Roman civilizations". Science 265 (5180): 1841–1843.  
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  44. ^ Zalasiewicz, J.; et al. (2011). "Stratigraphy of the Anthropocene". Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A 369 (1938): 1036–55.  
  45. ^ Richter, D. deB. (2007). "Humanity’s transformation of Earth’s soil: pedology’s new frontier". Soil Science 172 (12): 957–67.  
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  48. ^ Timothy Clark (ed.) (2012-12-01). "Special Issue: Deconstruction in the Anthropocene". Oxford Literary Review 34 (2): v–vi.  
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  53. ^ Colebrook, Claire (2014-01-27). "The Anthropocene and the Archive". The Memory Network: Exchanges. Retrieved 2014-07-21. 
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  56. ^ Andreas Malm, The Anthropocene Myth, The Jacobin, (March 2015)

Further reading

  • Ellis, Erle C.; Fuller, Dorian Q.; Kaplan, Jed O.; Lutters, Wayne G. (2013). "Dating the Anthropocene: Towards an empirical global history of human transformation of the terrestrial biosphere". Elementa 1: 000018.  
  • Kim, Rakhyun E.; Klaus Bosselmann (2013). "International Environmental Law in the Anthropocene: Towards a Purposive System of Multilateral Environmental Agreements". Transnational Environmental Law 2: 285–309.  
  • Schmidt, G. A., D. T. Shindel and S. Harder (2004). "A note on the relationship between ice core methane concentrations and insolation". Geophysical Research Letters 31 (23): L23206.  
  • Ruddiman, William F. (December 2003). "The anthropogenic greenhouse era began thousands of years ago". Climatic Change 61 (3): 261–293.  
  • Ruddiman, William F., Stephen J. Vavrus and John E. Kutzbach (2005). "A test of the overdue-glaciation hypothesis" (PDF). Quaternary Science Reviews 24: 11.  
  • Ruddiman, William F. (2005). Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum: How Humans Took Control of Climate. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.  
  • Visconti, Guido (2014). "Anthropocene: another academic invention?" (PDF). Rend. Fis. Acc. Lincei 25 (3): 381–392.  
  • "Human-Driven Planet: Time to Make It Official?". Science Now. January 2008. 

External links

  • Working Group on The 'Anthropocene', International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS)
  • "The Anthropocene", copy of original International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme article on Crutzen's website, May 2000.
  • "The Anthropocene Debate: Marking Humanity’s Impact", by Elizabeth Kolbert, Yale Environment 360, May 17, 2010
  • Encyclopedia of Earth"Anthropocene",
  • Welcome to the Anthropocene Website
  • Aarhus University Research on The Anthropocene (AURA)
  • 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)
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