Universiteit Leiden

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The Anthropocene is a prospective epoch/series, not a geological event

Wednesday 14 December 2022
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden


The Anthropocene as an epoch/series within the Geological Time Scale and with an inception in the mid-20th century would both utilize the rich array of stratigraphic signals associated with the Great Acceleration and align with Earth System science analysis from where the term Anthropocene originated. It would be stratigraphically robust and reflect the reality that our planet has far exceeded the range of natural variability for the Holocene Epoch/Series which it would terminate. An alternative, recently advanced ‘geological event’ approach would decouple the Anthropocene from its stratigraphic characterisation and association with a major planetary perturbation. We find the proposed anthropogenic ‘event’ to be primarily an interdisciplinary concept in which historical, cultural and social processes and their global environmental impacts are all flexibly interpreted within a multi-scalar framework. It is very different from an Anthropocene epoch/series designation based on chronostratigraphy, but as an anthropogenic phenomenon, if separately defined and differently named, might usefully be complementary to it.

Martin J. Head

About the speaker

Martin J. Head is a stratigrapher and Professor of Earth Sciences at Brock University, Canada. He is currently Vice-Chair of the International Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), having served as its Chair from 2012 to 2020. He was instrumental in defining the Quaternary System and redefining the Pleistocene Series, and was closely involved in formally defining the Calabrian, Chibanian, Greenlandian, Northgrippian and Meghalayan stages, and their respective Lower, Middle and Upper Pleistocene and Holocene subseries.  He is presently Co-Convener of the SQS Working Group on the Upper Pleistocene Subseries boundary, and a voting member of both the SQS Working Group on the Anthropocene and of the International Subcommission on Stratigraphic Classification. He is an advisory board member of the INQUA Stratigraphy and Chronology Commission (SACCOM). 

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