The term ‘Anthropocene’ in the context of formal geological classification
Published:January 01, 2014
P. L. Gibbard, M. J. C. Walker, 2014. "The term ‘Anthropocene’ in the context of formal geological classification", A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, C. N. Waters, J. A. Zalasiewicz, M. Williams, M. Ellis, A. M. Snelling
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In recent years, ‘Anthropocene’ has been proposed as an informal stratigraphic term to denote the current interval of anthropogenic global environmental change. A case has also been made to formalize it as a series/epoch, based on the recognition of a suitable marker event, such as the start of the Industrial Revolution in northern Europe. For the Anthropocene to merit formal definition, a global signature distinct from that of the Holocene is required that is marked by novel biotic, sedimentary and geochemical change. Although there is clear evidence of anthropogenic effects in geological sequences, it is uncertain whether these trends are sufficiently distinct, consistent and dated for the proposal for a Holocene/Anthropocene boundary to be substantiated. The current view of the Earth-Science community is that it should remain informal. For formal definition a Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP) is required. Adoption of the term ‘Anthropocene’ will ultimately depend on recognition of a global event horizon. Without this, there is no justification for decoupling the Anthropocene from the Holocene. If the Anthropocene is deemed to have utility, it should be as an informal historical designation rather than a formally defined stratigraphic unit (of whatever status) within the geological timescale.
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A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene
Humankind has pervasively influenced the Earth’s atmosphere, biosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere and cryosphere, arguably to the point of fashioning a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. To constrain the Anthropocene as a potential formal unit within the Geological Time Scale, a spectrum of indicators of anthropogenically-induced environmental change is considered, and shown as stratigraphical signals that may be used to characterize an Anthropocene unit, and to recognize its base. This volume describes a range of evidence that may help to define this potential new time unit and details key signatures that could be used in its definition. These signatures include lithostratigraphical (novel deposits, minerals and mineral magnetism), biostratigraphical (macro- and micro-palaeontological successions and human-induced trace fossils) and chemostratigraphical (organic, inorganic and radiogenic signatures in deposits, speleothems and ice and volcanic eruptions). We include, finally, the suggestion that humans have created a further sphere, the technosphere, that drives global change.