Can an Anthropocene Series be defined and recognized?
Published:January 01, 2014
Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Colin N. Waters, 2014. "Can an Anthropocene Series be defined and recognized?", A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene, C. N. Waters, J. A. Zalasiewicz, M. Williams, M. Ellis, A. M. Snelling
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We consider the Anthropocene as a physical, chronostratigraphic unit across terrestrial and marine sedimentary facies, from both a present and a far future perspective, provisionally using an approximately 1950 CE base that approximates with the ‘Great Acceleration’, worldwide sedimentary incorporation of A-bomb-derived radionuclides and light nitrogen isotopes linked to the growth in fertilizer use, and other markers. More or less effective recognition of such a unit today (with annual/decadal resolution) is facies-dependent and variably compromised by the disturbance of stratigraphic superposition that commonly occurs at geologically brief temporal scales, and that particularly affects soils, deep marine deposits and the pre-1950 parts of current urban areas. The Anthropocene, thus, more than any other geological time unit, is locally affected by such blurring of its chronostratigraphic boundary with Holocene strata. Nevertheless, clearly separable representatives of an Anthropocene Series may be found in lakes, land ice, certain river/delta systems, in the widespread dredged parts of shallow-marine systems on continental shelves and slopes, and in those parts of deep-water systems where human-rafted debris is common. From a far future perspective, the boundary is likely to appear geologically instantaneous and stratigraphically significant.
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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.