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.