Paul Crutzen. The Nobel Prize winning atmospheric chemist, best known for his groundbreaking work on ozone depletion coined the term to satisfy his need to describe the age in which we are now living. It is different from the Holocene, he argues (image of the Early Holocene left). The Anthropocene is the representation of the effect a single species has had on the planet. That species is, of course, us.
His case is that by our actions we are going to leave a permanent signature in our earthly geology. These actions will be traceable back to us even millions of years in the future when scientists (possibly not us by that time) will be able to see the point at which we changed the earth’s oceans and biosphere irreversibly.
The changes to the time scale have to this point always been natural. The great big meteoric rock that killed off the dinosaurs for example was one point at which the time scale changed.
Not just one book, though – think volumes. It’s like one of those huge episodic Dickens novels but about stone instead.
Each epoch is only a small part of the scale. They are subdivisions of a Period – the one in which we find ourselves currently is the Quaternary Period. Each Period is a subdivision of an Era.
We are in the Cenozoic Era. Still with us?
Well, that sets the scene for what will no doubt become the hottest of heated debates in geological circles. Like Knights Templar of stones and rocks, there is a body which guards the integrity of the geological time scale. They go under the marvellous title of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (image in the head of a certain Time Lord flashing his telepathic paper and saying I’m with the ICS – cool).
In May they will meet up to discuss the findings of their Anthropocene Working Group (no doubt referred to as the AWG).
It is possible of course (and many geologists agree) that it is way too early to tell if this will truly be the case as – to put it simply – we just haven’t been around long enough to leave anything but a thin sliver on the fossil record.
Although they use the term informally they see no need to, ahem, set it in stone.
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