Anatomy of the Anthropocene
  • Upper Lecture Theatre, Sherwell Centre, Plymouth University

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The School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences organises a regular series of research seminars throughout the academic year to which everyone is welcome to attend. Speakers - both external and internal to the University - will talk on topics related to all aspects of Earth Sciences.

Today's speaker is Professor Jan Zalasiewicz from the University of Leicester.

The Anthropocene, currently under analysis as a potential addition to the Geological Time Scale, was first introduced into general scientific debate by Paul Crutzen in 2000. If it is to become a formal geological time unit, it must be functional as both a geochronological unit (an ‘abstract time’ unit, for example, an Epoch) and a chronostratigraphical unit (the corresponding material ‘time-rock’ unit, a Series). 

 The most compelling evidence collated to date by the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) comprises a range of stratigraphic proxies of physical (for example, anthropogenic rock and mineral types such as concrete, plastics and fly ash), chemical (for example, C, N isotopic changes, radionuclides, pesticides) and biological (species invasions, extinctions, assemblage changes) character. Together, these suggest that the most effective boundary may be placed around the mid-20th century. 

 Formalisation will depend not just on the weight of stratigraphic evidence (already considerable) but also on perceived utility, while current work by the AWG focuses on identifying possible candidates for a potential GSSP or ‘golden spike’ for the Anthropocene. As regards wider societal implications, the succession of phenomena associated with this concept strongly suggest that it will be associated - by contrast with the general stability of Holocene times - with significant Earth system change for the foreseeable future. 

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