Site Loader

The proposal for the ‘Anthropocene’ as a new geological epoch has been rejected


As reported less than a month ago in this news section, the proposal of the ‘Anthropocene’ as a new geological epoch was submitted to the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), specifically to the Subcommission of Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), for approval. This submission marked the initial step toward formalizing this new chronostratigraphic unit on the Geological Time Scale (GTS).

The proposal, submitted by the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), considered that the ‘Anthropocene’ began in 1952, coinciding with the Great Acceleration. Stratigraphic markers included radionuclides generated by the first nuclear tests conducted in the mid-20th century, along with fly ash from fossil fuel combustion, microplastics and pesticides, among others. The proposed type section was located in the top 10-15 cm of sediments from Canada’s Lake Crawford (Waters et al., 2024).

As previously mentioned in the same news report, the SQS decision relied on the votes of its 18 members, requiring a supermajority of 60% for approval. A couple of weeks ago (5 March 2024), it was publicly announced that the SQS rejected the proposal by 12 votes (66%) against, 4 in favor and 2 abstentions (Voosen, 2024; Witze, 2024). On March 20, the SQS decision was approved by the ICS and ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). Consequently, we remain in the Holocene, which commenced 11,700 years ago after the end of the last glaciation.

Summary of the different possibilities for the definition of the ‘Anthropocene’ either as a geological epoch (upper pink area), with the corresponding stratigraphic markers (middle blue area), or a geological event (brown area). Modified from Gibbarb et al. (2022; J. Quat. Res. 37, 395-399).

It is important to note that this rejection does not negate the concept of the ‘Anthropocene’ itself but rather the specific proposal put forth by the AWG proposal. Therefore, it is still possible to submit a new and different proposal. However, given the results of the former voting, a new proposal would likely face similar rejection, Philip Gibbard, the ICS Secretary General, said.

The crux of the matter lies in determining when human global impact began and whether a single date can accurately represent this phenomenon, considering that planetary anthropization commenced at varying times across different regions. The SQS believes that other possibilities exist and suggests that Earth’s humanization might be better defined as a widespread and diachronic (not synchronic) event, rather than a geological epoch (Gibbard et al., 2022).

Things are going fast in this topic and new developments cannot be disregarded during the next months. A milestone will be the next International Geological Congress to be held at Busan (Korea) this summer. It is expected that the issue of the Anthropocene will be intensively discussed on that occasion.

References

Gibbard, P., et al. 2022b. The Anthropocene as an event, not an Epoch. Journal of Quaternary Science 37, 395-399.

Voosen, P. 2024. The Anthropocene is dead. Long live the Anthropocene. Science, doi 10.1126/science.z3wcw7b.

Waters, C.N., et al. 2024. Excetuvive summary. The Anthropocene Epoch and Crawfordian Age: proposals by the Anthropocene Working Group. EarthArXiv, doi 10.31223/X5VH70.

Witze, A. 2024. Geologists reject the Anthropocene as Earth’s new epoch – after 15 years of debate. Nature 627, 249-250.

Nomenclatural type catalogue

Events

    «May 2024»
    MonTueWedThuFriSatSun
      
    1
     
    2
     
    3
     
    4
     
    5
     
    6
     
    7
     
    8
     
    9
     
    10
     
    11
     
    12
     
    13
     
    14
     
    15
     
    16
     
    17
     
    18
     
    19
     
    20
     
    21
     
    22
     
    23
     
    24
     
    25
     
    26
     
    27
     
    28
     
    29
     
    30
     
    31