Meeting considers formal declaration of the Anthropocene

The May 27, 2014 issue of EOS, published by the American Geophysical Union (AGU) reported on a news briefing held at the European Geoscience Union’s Assembly on 29 April where the issue of whether human impacts on Earth are significant enough to formally declare a new geological time period.   Human influence on Earth’s atmosphere, oceans, land, and biology has grown to the extent that some people now think that the planet may have entered a new geological period, known as the Anthropocene.

Jan Zalasiewicz, one of the scientists at the briefing, explained that the term Anthropocene refers to a hypothesis that people have changed Earth’s surface systems sufficiently to affect the geology on a scale comparable with some geologic epochs or periods in the past. The term has been popularized by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and others. Zalasiewicz is a senior lecturer in paleobiology at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and the convener of the Working Group on the Anthropocene of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which includes geologists as well as some archaeologists and others who are not geologists.

Since 2009 the working group has been looking into the potential for recommending to the commission the formalization of the Anthropocene as part of the geological timescale.  The concerns of the working group include whether the Anthropocene is geologically justified; if so, whether it should be characterized as an age, epoch, period, or eon; when it should begin; and even whether the term is useful.

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