7 The Stratigraphic Boundary of the Anthropocene

Citation:
Zalasiewicz J, Waters CN, Williams M, Summerhayes CP, Odada E, Wagreich M, Draganits E, Edgewor M. "7 The Stratigraphic Boundary of the Anthropocene.". In: The Anthropocene as a Geological Time Unit: A Guide to the Scientific Evidence and Current Debate. Cambridge University Press; 2019.

Abstract:

Here we outline the basis on which a formal proposal should be made for potential inclusion of the Anthropocene in the Geological Time Scale, examining the scale and rate of human change to the Earth System to help recognise the point at which anthropogenic impacts became of sufficient scale to allow discrimination of the Anthropocene as a geological unit. This examination covers such factors as impacts from early hominin species, the first human artefacts, early ecosystem modification through agriculture, deforestation, the domestication of animals, urbanisation, metal mining and smelting and early globalisation. The Industrial Revolution, starting in the UK in the 18th century, and the global Great Acceleration of the mid-20th century, are investigated, as both provide popular narratives that explain the Earth System changes indicative of the Anthropocene, with the latter producing the near-synchronous stratigraphic signals most consistent with an effective geological time boundary. We assess which hierarchical level–age, epoch, period, era or eon–seems most suitable for the Anthropocene, and suggest that epoch (= series) level is conservative and appropriate. The Anthropocene might be defined via a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age or a Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point, with the latter being most appropriate. Finally, we assess the kinds of geological environments, including anoxic marine basins, annually banded coral and bivalve skeletons, estuaries and deltas, lake floors, peat mires, anthropogenic deposits, polar ice, speleothems and tree rings, in which such a physical reference level might be placed.

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