The Anthropocene: Leicester scientists respond to criticisms of new geological epoch

Posted by ap507 at Mar 23, 2017 09:55 AM |
‘Irreversible’ changes to the Earth provide striking evidence of new epoch, University of Leicester experts suggest
The Anthropocene: Leicester scientists respond to criticisms of new geological epoch

Credit: Jonathan Sisson / University of Leicester

A team of academics from our University has responded to criticisms of the proposal to formalise a new geological epoch – the Anthropocene.

Geological critics of a formalised Anthropocene have alleged that the idea did not arise from geology; that there is simply not enough physical evidence for it as strata; that it is based more on the future than on the past; that it is more a part of human history than the immensely long history of the Earth; and that it is a political statement, rather than a scientific one.

Members of the international Anthropocene Working Group, including professors Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin Waters and Mark Williams of our Department of Geology and Dr Matt Edgeworth of the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History, have considered these various criticisms at length.

In a paper published in the journal Newsletters on Stratigraphy, the 27 co-author group suggests that the Anthropocene has already seen irreversible changes to the Earth, rather than just to human societies.

The Anthropocene - the concept that humans have so transformed geological processes at the Earth’s surface that we are living in a new epoch - was formulated by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000.

It is now being analysed by an international group of scientists – the Anthropocene Working Group – as a potential new addition to the Geological Time Scale, which would be a major step in its global scientific recognition.

Professor Mark Williams said: “These responses do not mean that the Anthropocene will be instantly formalised. There is still much work to do to gather the evidence for a formal proposal based upon a ‘golden spike’ – a physical reference point in strata, somewhere in the world, to define the beginning of this proposed new epoch. 

“Humans really have made epoch-scale changes to the Earth’s geology, and analysis of these changes towards their formalisation in geology will continue.”

An audio interview about changes to the Earth with Professors Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams is available here:

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