When did the Anthropocene begin? A mid-twentieth century boundary level is stratigraphically optimal

Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N. Waters*, Mark Williams, Anthony D. Barnosky, Alejandro Cearreta, Paul Crutzen, Erle Ellis, Michael A. Ellis, Ian J. Fairchild, Jacques Grinevald, Peter K. Haff, Irka Hajdas, Reinhold Leinfelder, John McNeill, Eric O. Odada, Clément Poirier, Daniel Richter, Will Steffen, Colin Summerhayes, James P M SyvitskiDavor Vidas, Michael Wagreich, Scott L. Wing, Alexander P. Wolfe, Zhisheng An, Naomi Oreskes

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    313 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    We evaluate the boundary of the Anthropocene geological time interval as an epoch, since it is useful to have a consistent temporal definition for this increasingly used unit, whether the presently informal term is eventually formalized or not. Of the three main levels suggested - an 'early Anthropocene' level some thousands of years ago; the beginning of the Industrial Revolution at ~1800 CE (Common Era); and the 'Great Acceleration' of the mid-twentieth century - current evidence suggests that the last of these has the most pronounced and globally synchronous signal. A boundary at this time need not have a Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP or 'golden spike') but can be defined by a Global Standard Stratigraphic Age (GSSA), i.e. a point in time of the human calendar. We propose an appropriate boundary level here to be the time of the world's first nuclear bomb explosion, on July 16th 1945 at Alamogordo, New Mexico; additional bombs were detonated at the average rate of one every 9.6 days until 1988 with attendant worldwide fallout easily identifiable in the chemostratigraphic record. Hence, Anthropocene deposits would be those that may include the globally distributed primary artificial radionuclide signal, while also being recognized using a wide range of other stratigraphic criteria. This suggestion for the Holocene-Anthropocene boundary may ultimately be superseded, as the Anthropocene is only in its early phases, but it should remain practical and effective for use by at least the current generation of scientists.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)196-203
    Number of pages8
    JournalQuaternary International
    Volume383
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 5 Oct 2015

    Keywords

    • Anthropocene
    • GSSA
    • GSSP
    • Stratigraphy

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Earth-Surface Processes

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