The Anthropocene Epoch

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The Anthropocene Epoch

We are in a new geological epoch defined by the permanent impact that humans have had on Earth.

Key Insight

We are in a new geological epoch defined by the permanent impact that humans have had on Earth.

Why It Matters

A new epoch is defined following a cataclysmic event—like the asteroid that collided with Earth and led to the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. Such events significantly and permanently alter the underlying sedimentary and rock layers beneath the surface of the planet, resulting in visible, measurable changes.

Examples

An international, independent team of scientists, called the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), has now found enough evidence to support the official declaration of a new geological epoch. The group, comprised of scientists who were in favor of, as well as those who were against declaring a new epoch, reached a consensus in early 2018. While much debate ensued, we are now seeing concrete, publicly-available research corroborating the designation.

Scientists within the AWG and outside have determined that humans have left a permanent mark on the planet. The new geological layers we are creating are riddled with chemicals and industrial waste, pavement, plastic, nuclear fallout, everyday garbage, pesticide runoff and more. We’ve caused our sea levels to rise and our lakes and rivers to dry up, and extreme weather events are now a normal part of living on Earth.

What’s Next

The “Anthropocene” (anthro for “man,” and cene for “new”) describes a new geographic epoch. (Our previous epoch, which began 11,700 years ago just after the last ice age, was called the “Holocene.”) Being able to pinpoint an interval of time and the change it represents can help us set a different—and hopefully improved—trajectory for life on Earth.

Impact

Recognizing that humans have made a permanent, visible mark on the earth is the first step in studying the future implications for our planet.

Watchlist

Anthropocene Working Group, International Union of Geological Sciences, The Nature Conservancy, Union of Concerned Scientists, U.S. Geological Survey.