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Anthropogenic changes to the Earth's climate, land, oceans and biosphere are now so great and so rapid that the concept of a new geological epoch defined by the action of humans, the Anthropocene, is widely and seriously debated. Questions of the scale, magnitude and significance of this environmental change, particularly in the context of the Earth's geological history, provide the basis for this Theme Issue. The Anthropocene, on current evidence, seems to show global change consistent with the suggestion that an epoch-scale boundary has been crossed within the last two centuries.
doi: 10.1098/rsta.2010.0339 , 835-841369 2011 Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A
Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Alan Haywood and Michael Ellis
The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological
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Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A (2011) 369, 835–841
The Anthropocene: a new epoch of
geological time?
1Department of Geology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
2British Geological Survey, Keyworth, Nottingham NG12 5GG, UK
3School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK
Anthropogenic changes to the Earth’s climate, land, oceans and biosphere are now so
great and so rapid that the concept of a new geological epoch defined by the action
of humans, the Anthropocene, is widely and seriously debated. Questions of the scale,
magnitude and significance of this environmental change, particularly in the context of
the Earth’s geological history, provide the basis for this Theme Issue. The Anthropocene,
on current evidence, seems to show global change consistent with the suggestion that an
epoch-scale boundary has been crossed within the last two centuries.
Keywords: Anthropocene; environmental change; human influence; geological time
1. Introduction
From the late nineteenth century, scientists were becoming aware of the extent
of human influence on planet Earth. George Perkins Marsh’s influential Man and
Nature [1] is perhaps the first major work to focus on anthropogenic global change,
while the Italian geologist Antonio Stoppani [2] coined the term ‘Anthropozoic’
to denote the time of this transformation. As the nineteenth century drew to
a close, Svante Arrhenius [3] and Thomas Chamberlain [4] were exploring the
relationship between CO2concentrations in the atmosphere and global warming.
Arrhenius suggested that future generations of humans would need to raise
surface temperatures to provide new areas of agricultural land and thus feed a
growing population. In 2002, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul
Crutzen [5] resurrected the concept of the Anthropocene to denote the current
interval of time on Earth in which many key processes are dominated by human
influence. The word quickly entered the scientific literature as a vivid expression of
the degree of environmental change on Earth caused by humans, and is currently
under discussion as a potential formal unit of the geological time scale [6,7].
*Author for correspondence (
One contribution of 13 to a Theme Issue ‘The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?’.
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836 J. Zalasiewicz et al.
2. What characterizes the Anthropocene?
The use of tools was once thought to distinguish humans from all other animals,
and among the earliest people who lived at 2 Ma in Africa were Homo habilis,
the ‘handy man’. From that time, people have been modifying the Earth. For
much of that human story, these changes were achieved by muscle and sinew,
supplemented first by primitive tools, largely for hunting, and later by fire.
Traces of humans in the Pleistocene rock record are rare, and stay rare until
the Holocene.
The influence of humans is felt more strongly towards the end of the Pleistocene
epoch, with the demise of much of the ‘megafauna’ that included the sabre-
toothed cats in North America or the woolly mammoths of Siberia. On many
continents, the disappearance of the megafauna appears to coincide with the
arrival of modern humans. Like many events in the geological record, this
extinction is diachronous—that is, happening in different places at different
times. Thus, the megafauna disappeared in Australia 50 000 years ago, but in
the Americas 13 000 years ago. Yet, the megafauna are still living in parts of
Africa and South Asia, albeit under threat nearly everywhere.
From the beginning of the Holocene, about 11 500 years ago, evidence for
human activities becomes more widespread, with the rise of agriculture beginning
first in the ‘fertile crescent’ of the Middle East and gradually extending to
northern Europe by 6000 years ago [8]. This change from hunting to cultivation
leaves a clear fossil record in the pollen preserved in sedimentary successions
through this interval. And, the clearance of forests, associated with the rise of
agriculture, may have begun to elevate CO2levels in the atmosphere long before
the Industrial Revolution [8].
Following the Neolithic revolution of agriculture, humans began to live in
villages and towns, and by the third millennium BC the cities of ancient
Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley and the Indus Basin of Pakistan were well
established and culturally distinctive. Still later, urban cultures spread across
the tropical and temperate zones everywhere, with those in Europe, Central and
South America and China being diverse and advanced by the first millennium
BC. This rate of urbanization has accelerated through time, with the first million-
strong cities possibly appearing in late medieval times. By the nineteenth century,
London and Paris had clearly reached this size. Now, there are many cities with
between 10 and 20 million inhabitants. These are continuing to grow, rapidly.
Urbanization is a direct result of a population explosion. Since 1800, global
population has risen from roughly 1 billion, to 6.5 billion in 2000 and a projected 9
billion by 2050. That population growth is linked with the Industrial Revolution,
which supplied the power and technology to feed those extra mouths. Cities,
and especially megacities like Jakarta, Rio de Janeiro or Shanghai, are now the
most visible expression of human influence on the planet. The growth of cities is
therefore a characteristic feature of the Anthropocene.
In ‘terraforming’ cities and building the dams and agricultural land that water
and feed them, humans have wrought a roughly order of magnitude change
in the long-term rate of erosion and sedimentation [9,10]. Paradoxically, while
deforestation and changes in land use have resulted in more sediment transported
in rivers, many of those rivers are now dammed, preventing the flow of that
sediment to continental shelves [11]. Such changes may be impermanent. If
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Introduction. Anthropocene epoch 837
human construction were to stop, for instance, nature would soon take over
these constructions, reducing them to ruins over a matter of centuries. After
a few millennia, perhaps only a patchy layer of concrete and building rubble
would remain.
The biological and chemical signals left by humans—invisible, intangible in our
day-to-day lives—may leave a signal more profound than the physical structures
of the world’s megacities. Thus, dissolution of increased atmospheric CO2into the
oceans is increasing their acidity. A significant drop in oceanic pH has already
occurred, and further decreases are almost certain. The biological response is
complex, but will stress many calcifying organisms such as corals or the marine
plankton that form the base of many food chains. Ocean acidification alone may
substantially change marine ecosystems over the next century, contribute to
global biodiversity decline, and so produce a distinctive event in the future
fossil record.
3. Dealing with geological time
The Earth is over 4.5Gyr old. This vast time span encompasses the formation
of our planet and its oceans and continents, the origin of life and the evolution
of the biosphere to its present complexity. To cope practically with such an
extent of geological time, it is divided into more manageable packages that
range from eons encompassing hundreds of millions—or indeed billions—of years,
through smaller packages of time, such as the eras, typically characterized by a
distinctive fossil record, perhaps most notably the dinosaurs and ammonites for
the Mesozoic era beginning about 250 Ma and terminating some 66 Ma. These
in turn are subdivided into periods of geological time, such as the Cambrian
or Cretaceous, that may include distinctive, extensive rock units, such as the
chalk strata of the latter. Periods are divided further into epochs and ages, and
the record of fossils in rocks that were deposited in these shorter intervals of
time is now so well constrained that we can correlate such units globally and
reconstruct the appearance and conditions of our planet for many hundreds of
different time slices.
The last period of time, the Quaternary, began just 2.6 Ma, and includes two
epochs, the Pleistocene and the Holocene. The latter—by far the shortest in the
geological time scale—began only about 11 500 years ago, witnessed by changes
in climate that manifest in an ice core from Greenland [12]. The Holocene is
really just the last of a series of interglacial climate phases that have punctuated
the severe icehouse climate of the past 2 Myr. We distinguish it as an epoch
for practical purposes, in that many of the surface bodies of sediment on which
we live—the soils, river deposits, deltas, coastal plains and so on—were formed
during this time.
4. Examining the Anthropocene
To the Quaternary period a third epoch might be added, the Anthropocene.
Should it be formalized, and join the Carboniferous, the Jurassic, the Pleistocene
and other such units on the geological time scale? This would be a major change
to perhaps the most fundamental framework—the temporal one—used by Earth
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838 J. Zalasiewicz et al.
scientists. Such changes are not carried out lightly, and require wide discussion,
consensus and agreement, under the aegis of the International Commission on
Stratigraphy and the International Union of Geological Sciences. Are the changes
involved in the Anthropocene of sufficient scale to warrant such formalization
and—whether they are or not—is it useful to formalize the term in this way?
Formalization would require precision of definition—and that would certainly
help international and interdisciplinary communication. But excessive formality,
of course, can act as a hindrance to working science. Where is the line to be
drawn here?
This Theme Issue is a contribution to this debate, and was conceived
to examine various aspects of the Anthropocene, and to stimulate debate,
both about the term itself and (more importantly) about the phenomenon it
encompasses: the transformation of the Earth’s surface environments by human
activity. This phenomenon is now arguably the most important question of our
age—scientifically, socially and politically. We cannot think of a greater or more
urgent challenge.
The opening paper of this issue by Steffen et al.[13] (the authorship including
the architect of the term ‘Anthropocene’, Paul Crutzen) provides historical
context to the Anthropocene concept, and examines the rapidly evolving—indeed,
accelerating—trends in many global environmental signals, from resource use
on land to patterns of oceanic and atmospheric chemistry. The authors stress
recent human innovations—for instance, the startling advances in genomics that
may profoundly impact on the future evolution of the biosphere. The effects of
such transformational technologies may come to dwarf those of the smokestack
industries, as regards lasting effects on this planet.
The Anthropocene is here treated as a geological phenomenon, comparable
to some of the great events of the Earth’s deep past. But, the driving force
for the component global changes is firmly centred in human behaviour,
particularly in social, political and economic spheres. The paper by Kellie-
Smith & Cox [14] examines the relations between the financial markets and the
Earth’s environmental life support systems. They suggest that the future course
of this relation may be influenced by a stabilizing negative feedback—thus, as
environmental degradation hinders economic development, adverse affects on the
markets will limit investment, acting as a brake on the likes of resource depletion
and carbon emissions.
The science of Anthropocene change to the oceans is analysed by Tyrrell [15].
The major phenomena here are warming (and sea ice loss at high latitudes), sea-
level rise and acidification, all demonstrably processes that are already initiated;
and changes to ocean circulation, that have yet to be clearly demonstrated.
Tyrrell shows how processes such as carbonate compensation will probably
lead to continuing ocean change for many millennia into the future, even after
anthropogenic CO2emissions cease.
Vidas [16] examines the history of the law of the sea, the framework that
regulates humanity’s exploitation of the vast (but finite) resource of the oceans.
This framework stemmed from the early seventeenth century concept of Mare
Liberum—‘the freedom of the seas’—by Hugo Grotius (originally commissioned
to justify what was, in effect, the life of the privateer). Subsequently shaped
by national, territorial forces, this developed into the modern framework, where
geological concepts (like the extent of the continental shelf) remain central to
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Introduction. Anthropocene epoch 839
such matters as national claims to stretches of the sea. Now, Vidas argues, as
the oceans themselves change through anthropogenic pressure, one must envision
new principles that acknowledge those pressures, to underpin future iterations of
the law of the sea. Tickell [17] reflects more widely on the societal economic and
social trends that brought about humanity’s current, pivotal situation—and on
the kind of dynamics and institutional arrangements that may be needed to allow
an Anthropocene epoch in which future generations can thrive.
Haywood et al.[18] analyse some of the ancient climates of Earth. They
conclude that the relevance of studying ancient warm climates is not in
the search for a direct analogue for twenty-first century global warming, but
in the assessment and calculation of the response of global temperatures to
increasing CO2concentrations in the longer term (over multiple centuries), and
in the assessment of the abilities of climate and Earth system models to predict
future climate.
Syvitski & Kettner [19] show that the impact of humans on sediment flux began
some 3000 years ago within the Yellow River basin. This trend accelerated in the
past 1000 years, and the sum of human activity through deforestation, agriculture,
mining, transport, waterway ‘re-plumbing’, coastal trawling and climate change
has produced an effect equivalent to the level of a geological climate event, such
as seen in the transition between the Pleistocene and the Holocene.
Merritts et al.[20] show that conceptual models linking channel condition and
sediment yield exclusively with modern upland land use are incomplete for valleys
impacted by mill dams. With no equivalent in the Holocene or Late Pleistocene
sedimentary record, modern incised stream channel forms in the mid-Atlantic
region of the USA represent a transient response to both base-level forcing and
major changes in land use beginning centuries ago.
Ellis [21] considers the transformation of much of the terrestrial biosphere into
anthropogenic biomes, or anthromes. He analyses the scale of this transformation
by comparing the extent of change through different time slices of the Holocene.
While human influence has been significant for more than 8000 years, it is only the
last century that has seen a majority of the biosphere transformed into intensively
used anthromes, and these are characterized by novel ecological processes, in
increasingly profound manipulations of entire ecosystems.
Zalasiewicz et al.[22] consider contemporary environmental trends in
stratigraphic terms, for instance, translating landscape modification (including
urban growth) as a new lithostratigraphic signal, and biodiversity change as the
fossil record of the future. Factoring in the potential for preservation of modern
anthropogenic phenomena means that some of the most striking contemporary
signals, such as megacity growth, may have low preservation potential, depending
on tectonic setting. Conversely, biodiversity changes (including such novel aspects
as unprecedented levels of global species transfer) have considerable permanence
in determining the future course of biotic development.
The stratigraphic signal left by humans is continued by Price et al.[23], who
discuss the gemorphological impact of humans on Earth. They note that in the
past 200 years, humans in the UK alone have excavated and built up more than
four times the volume of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain. Vane et al.[24]
continue this theme, identifying a range of pollutants preserved in the sediments
of the River Clyde that provide a stratigraphical record of the rise of Glasgow,
one of the world’s first industrial cities.
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It is clear that much work remains to be undertaken to understand the
Anthropocene, even as its defining processes evolve. Considering the present
in terms of the deep past, and vice versa, is difficult, because the methods of
description and analysis of these two temporal realms are often greatly different.
Nevertheless, it is important to try to put contemporary changes to the Earth,
as clearly as possible, into a deep time context. This Theme Issue is intended
as a step in that direction. The results of the studies herein, in sum, indicate
that anthropogenic influence on Earth, albeit only briefly sustained (to date) on
geological time scales, is likely to have significant and long-lasting consequences.
The Anthropocene, on current evidence, seems to show global change consistent
with the suggestion that an epoch-scale boundary has been crossed within the
last two centuries.
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... Fakat kentlerin Antroposen'in başlamasına neden olan felaket mekânları olduğu gerçeği de inkâr edilemez. Kentler "Büyük Hızlanma" olarak bilinen aşamada inanılmaz değişimleri yaşatan mekânlar olmuştur 37 . ...
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Ecological preservation needs to be done based on natural disparities. Islam teaches that the preservation of nature is also a commandment of Allah which is written in the Al-Qur'an. Literature is one of the good medium in reporting the importance of preserving nature. This study aims to represent the ecotheology of Islam in Tere Liye's novel “Si Anak Kuat”. The method used in this study is descriptive qualitative. Sources of data in this study are documents, namely “Si Anak Kuat” novel by Tere Liye. The technique to collect the data in this study is content analysis. Technique validity of data in this study using triangulation theory. Data analysis techniques using interactive data analysis techniques. The results showed that there are aspects that represent the ecotheology of Islam in Tere Liye's “Si Anak Kuat” novel. The aspects are 1) Tawhid, 2) Khilafah, 3) Amanah, 4) Fairness, and 5) Istislah. Studying Islamic ecotheology is the same as exploring environmental preservation in terms of Islamic teachings.
This chapter brings degrowth into conversation with Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay, an alternative to development from Ecuador. The Anthropocene is a crisis marked by multiple ecological crises, but also by dualistic and hierarchical structures of oppression. It’s a civilisationary crisis that needs to be confronted in all its intersecting dimensions. Anthropocentrism is one of the defining features of this new geological epoch, and stands in the way of more profound socioecological transformations towards ecological sustainability and social wellbeing. This chapter therefore generates an inter-epistemic dialogue between Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay, an Andean-Amazonian conceptualisation of Good Living, and degrowth, a social movement from the Global North that advocates a democratic and redistributive reduction of affluency-based consumption and production patterns in line with social and ecological boundaries. The chapter is based on research carried out in Ecuador in 2020 into Buen Vivir/sumak kawsay in practice. The dialogue between these two projects serves to overcome remnants of anthropocentrism in degrowth thought and practice. Reciprocal practices with the non-human world, observed in Ecuador, can give impetus to the cultural direction of socioecological transformation processes, alongside socioeconomic reforms and policies.KeywordsDegrowthBuen VivirAnthropocentrismAnthropocenePolitical ontologyCultural politics
Recent studies in digital design and fabrication processes focus on the potentials of using biological systems in nature as mathematical models or more recently as bio-based materials and composites in various applications. The reciprocal integration between mechanical and digital media for designing and manufacturing bio-based products is still open to development. The current digital form-finding scripts involve an extensive material list, although bio-based materials have not been fully integrated yet. This paper explores a customized form-finding process by suggesting a framework through mechanically informed material-based computation. Bacterial cellulose, an unconventional yet potential material for design, was explored across its biological growth, tensile properties, and the integration of datasets into digital form finding. The initial results of the comparison between digital form finding with conventional materials versus mechanically informed digital form finding revealed a huge difference in terms of both the resulting optimum geometry and the maximum axial forces that the geometry could actually handle. Although this integration is relatively novel in the literature, the proposed methodology has proven effective for enhancing the structural optimization process within digital design and fabrication and for bringing us closer to real-life applications. This approach allows conventional and limited material lists in various digital form finding and structural optimization scripts to cover novel materials once the quantitative mechanical properties are obtained. This method has the potential to develop into a commercial algorithm for a large number of bio-based and customized prototypes within the context of digital form finding of complex geometries.
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The human population has been increasing exponentially. Simultaneously, as digging sticks and antlers have given way to wooden plows, iron spades, steam shovels, and today's huge excavators, our ability and motivation to modify the landscape by moving earth in con- struction and mining activities have also increased dramatically. As a consequence, we have now become arguably the premier geomorphic agent sculpting the landscape, and the rate at which we are moving earth is increasing exponentially. As hunter-gatherer cultures were re- placed by agrarian societies to feed this expanding population, erosion from agricultural fields also, until recently, increased steadily. This constitutes an unintended additional human impact on the landscape.
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The term Anthropocene, proposed and increasingly employed to denote the current interval of anthropogenic global environ- mental change, may be discussed on stratigraphic grounds. A case can be made for its consideration as a formal epoch in that, since the start of the Industrial Revolution, Earth has endured changes sufficient to leave a global stratigraphic signature dis- tinct from that of the Holocene or of previous Pleistocene inter- glacial phases, encompassing novel biotic, sedimentary, and geochemical change. These changes, although likely only in their initial phases, are sufficiently distinct and robustly estab- lished for suggestions of a Holocene-Anthropocene bound- ary in the recent historical past to be geologically reasonable. The boundary may be defined either via Global Stratigraphic Section and Point ("golden spike") locations or by adopting a numerical date. Formal adoption of this term in the near future will largely depend on its utility, particularly to earth scientists working on late Holocene successions. This datum, from the perspective of the far future, will most probably approximate a distinctive stratigraphic boundary.
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The Greenland ice core from NorthGRIP (NGRIP) contains a proxy climate record across the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary of unprecedented clarity and resolution. Analysis of an array of physical and chemical parameters within the ice enables the base of the Holocene, as reflected in the first signs of climatic warming at the end of the Younger Dryas/Greenland Stadial 1 cold phase, to be located with a high degree of precision. This climatic event is most clearly reflected in an abrupt shift in deuterium excess values, accompanied by more gradual changes in δ18O, dust concentration, a range of chemical species, and annual layer thickness. A timescale based on multi-parameter annual layer counting provides an age of 11 700 calendar yr b2 k (before AD 2000) for the base of the Holocene, with a maximum counting error of 99 yr. A proposal that an archived core from this unique sequence should constitute the Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) for the base of the Holocene Series/Epoch (Quaternary System/Period) has been ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences. Five auxiliary stratotypes for the Pleistocene–Holocene boundary have also been recognised. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.
To place the impact of humans in perspective, the author compares humans with more traditional geomorphic agents on the basis of the mass of material moved per year. The total moved by humans, estimated herein to be 40-45 Gt/yr if the effect of agriculture on river sediment loads (10 Gt/yr) is included, is comparable to or significantly greater than that of any other single geomorphic agent. In addition, the visual impact of human activities make them arguably the most important geomorphic agent currently shaping the surface of Earth. -from Author
Humans move increasingly large amounts of rock and sediment during various construction activities, and mean rates of cropland soil loss may exceed rates of formation by up to an order of magnitude, but appreciating the actual importance of humans as agents of global erosion necessitates knowledge of prehistoric denudation rates imposed on land surfaces solely by natural processes. Amounts of weathering debris that compose continental and oceanic sedimentary rocks provide one such source of information and indicate that mean denudation over the past half-billion years of Earth history has lowered continental surfaces by a few tens of meters per million years. In comparison, construction and agricultural activities currently result in the transport of enough sediment and rock to lower all ice-free continental surfaces by a few hundred meters per million years. Humans are now an order of magnitude more important at moving sediment than the sum of all other natural processes operating on the surface of the planet. Relationships between temporal trends in land use and global population indicate that humans became the prime agents of erosion sometime during the latter part of the first millennium A.D.
The anthropogenic era is generally thought to have begun 150 to 200 years ago, when the industrial revolution began producing CO2 and CH4 at rates sufficient to alter their compositions in the atmosphere. A different hypothesis is posed here: anthropogenic emissions of these gases first altered atmospheric concentrations thousands of years ago. This hypothesis is based on three arguments. (1) Cyclic variations in CO2 and CH4 driven by Earth-orbital changes during the last 350,000 years predict decreases throughout the Holocene, but the CO2 trend began an anomalous increase 8000 years ago, and the CH4 trend did so 5000 years ago. (2) Published explanations for these mid- to late-Holocene gas increases based on natural forcing can be rejected based on paleoclimatic evidence. (3) A wide array of archeological, cultural, historical and geologic evidence points to viable explanations tied to anthropogenic changes resulting from early agriculture in Eurasia, including the start of forest clearance by 8000 years ago and of rice irrigation by 5000 years ago. In recent millennia, the estimated warming caused by these early gas emissions reached a global-mean value of ∼0.8 ◦C and roughly 2 ◦C at high latitudes, large enough to have stopped a glaciation of northeastern Canada predicted by two kinds of climatic models. CO2 oscillations of ∼10 ppm in the last 1000 years are too large to be explained by external (solar-volcanic) forcing, but they can be explained by outbreaks of bubonic plague that caused historically documented farm abandonment in western Eurasia. Forest regrowth on abandoned farms sequestered enough carbon to account for the observed CO2 decreases. Plague-driven CO2 changes were also a significant causal factor in temperature changes during the Little Ice Age (1300–1900 AD).