The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene

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Science  08 Jan 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6269, aad2622
DOI: 10.1126/science.aad2622

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  • The Anthropocene may be more powerful as an informal term (for now)

    The Anthropocene concept has gone viral in recent years demonstrated by the multitude of papers published discussing various aspects of the proposed new geological epoch (1). Researchers have strong opinions over where the base of the Anthropocene should be set and the stratigraphic markers used to define it (1,2). However, the term ‘Anthropocene’ is already being used widely in science, social science and humanities literature. In that sense it is already proving to be a very useful term and is being used in a flexible way. It means slightly different things to different researchers from different disciplines and backgrounds which is fascinating in its own right. If the Anthropocene is formalised as an official geological epoch then its meaning becomes constrained, invalidating the innovative ways in which it is being used.

    In addition, rushing into the formalisation of the Anthropocene as an epoch may be pointless. The Earth system continues to change as anthropogenic impacts proliferate. In the future the extent of humanity’s impact on the Earth system may be more likely to match past transitions between geological periods rather than epochs in the geological timescale (3). On reflection, a formal Anthropocene epoch serves little purpose for defining the recent geological record as we can use several approaches to date sediment successions such as radiometric dating and age-equivalent markers such as volcanic ash layers. To retain its power and usability, the An...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.