PerspectiveGeology

Defining the epoch we live in

Science  03 Apr 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6230, pp. 38-39
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaa7297

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Summary

Human alterations of Earth's environments are pervasive. Visible changes include the built environment, conversion of forests and grasslands to agriculture, algal blooms, smog, and the siltation of dams and estuaries. Less obvious transformations include increases in ozone, carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4) in the atmosphere, and ocean acidification. Motivated by the pervasiveness of these alterations, Crutzen and Stoermer argued in 2000 that we live in the “Anthropocene,” a time in which humans have replaced nature as the dominant environmental force on Earth (1). Many of these wide-ranging changes first emerged during the past 200 years and accelerated rapidly in the 20th century (2). Yet, a focus on the most recent changes risks overlooking pervasive human transformations of Earth's surface for thousands of years, with profound effects on the atmosphere, climate, and biodiversity.