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Volume 26 Issue 3 (March/April 2016)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (432KB)

The “Anthropocene” epoch: Scientific decision or political statement?


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Stanley C. Finney*, Lucy E. Edwards**

1 Dept. of Geological Sciences, California State University at Long Beach, Long Beach, California 90277, USA
2 U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 20192, USA


The proposal for the “Anthropocene” epoch as a formal unit of the geologic time scale has received extensive attention in scientific and public media. However, most articles on the Anthropocene misrepresent the nature of the units of the International Chronostratigraphic Chart, which is produced by the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) and serves as the basis for the geologic time scale. The stratigraphic record of the Anthropocene is minimal, especially with its recently proposed beginning in 1945; it is that of a human lifespan, and that definition relegates considerable anthropogenic change to a “pre-Anthropocene.” The utility of the Anthropocene requires careful consideration by its various potential users. Its concept is fundamentally different from the chronostratigraphic units that are established by ICS in that the documentation and study of the human impact on the Earth system are based more on direct human observation than on a stratigraphic record. The drive to officially recognize the Anthropocene may, in fact, be political rather than scientific.

* Chair, International Commission on Stratigraphy
** Commissioner, North American Commission on Stratigraphic Nomenclature

Manuscript received 12 Nov. 2015; accepted 22 Nov. 2015

doi: 10.1130/GSATG270A.1