Geochemical signatures and catastrophic events
Anthropogenic chemical contamination is one of the most evident signals of human influence on the environment. The large amounts of industrially produced pollutants that have been introduced, over decades, into air, soil and water have caused modifications to natural elemental cycling. Anthropogenic contamination usually leads to enrichment in many elements, particularly in industrial areas. Thus, certain elements and their isotopes can be used as geochemical tracers of anthropogenic impact. Some human-induced changes in the environment may be regarded as a secondary effect of pollution, such as acidification, which causes increased geochemical mobility of several trace elements in surficial deposits. Methods used by geochemists to assess the scale of anthropogenic influence on the environment include calculations of anthropogenic influence on the environment via enrichment and contamination factors, geoaccumulation index and pollution load index. The use of geochemical background levels for delineating between natural and anthropogenic pollution is important. A historical perspective of anthropogenic contamination, allied with isotopic and geochemical signatures in dated sediment cores, may be applied to help define the Anthropocene.
Figures & Tables
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.