Anthropocene

During the last decade an international team of scientists has been working on a suite of key indicators showing the dramatic acceleration of human impacts on the Earth system over the last two centuries.

"Over the past 7,000 years the primary forces driving change have been astronomical - changes in solar intensity and subtle changes in orbital parameters, along with a few volcanoes. They have driven a rate of change of 0.01 degrees Celsius per century," says Professor Steffen, from the Fenner School of Environment and Society and the Climate Change Institute at ANU.

"Human-caused greenhouse gas emissions over the past 45 years have increased the rate of temperature rise to 1.7 degrees Celsius per century, dwarfing the natural background rate."

Research Spotlight

The Anthropocene Transition Project 2016 is a collaborative inquiry under the auspices of the UTS Business School in Sydney, Australia. Its aim is to stimulate, support and connect generative conversations by linking research networks with specific areas

The 'Anthropocene' is a term widely used since its coining by Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer in 2000 to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonisation, agriculture, urbanisation and global warming. the chemical composition of the atmosphere, oceans and soils, with significant anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals. environmental conditions generated by these perturbations; these include global warming, ocean acidification and spreading oceanic 'dead zones'. the biosphere both on land and in the sea, as a result of habitat loss, predation, species invasions and the physical and chemical changes noted above.

The beginning of the 'Anthropocene' is most generally considered to be at c. 1800 CE, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe (Crutzen's original suggestion); other potential candidates for time boundaries have been suggested, at both earlier dates (within or even before the Holocene) or later (e.g. at the start of the nuclear age). A formal 'Anthropocene' might be defined either with reference to a particular point within a stratal section, that is, a Global Stratigraphic Section and Point (GSSP), colloquially known as a 'golden spike; or, by a designated time boundary (a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age).

The 'Anthropocene' is currently being considered by the 'Anthropocene' Working Group for consideration by the International Commission on Stratigraphyas a potential geological epoch, i.e. at the same hierarchical level as the Pleistocene and Holocene epochs, with the implication that it is within the Quaternary Period, but that the Holocene has terminated. 

(SOURCE: WORKING GROUP ON THE ANTHROPOCENE)

Alberta Tar Sands, soon to cover an area larger than NY State; its toxic sludge ponds alone are large enough to be visible from space. (Photo from Extreme Energy Initiative.)

Fast Fact

18% of the global population (the OECD countries) are responsible for 74% of the world's consumption - and therefore impact on the Earth System (Steffan et al 2015)

Anthropocene Teaching Resources 

Professor Will Steffen's presentation on The Anthropocene Paradox

Science journalist Andrew Rivken on translating Anthropocene science for the rest of us