What is the proposed Anthropocene epoch?

News Excerpt:

Recently, the International Commission on Stratigraphy has voted down the proposal of adding an Anthropocene epoch and terminating the Holocene as it was not supported by the standards used to define epochs according to chronostratigraphy.

More About News:

Geological Time Scale: The Earth's geological time scale categorizes time into five broad divisions: eons, epochs, eras, periods, and ages. The boundaries between these divisions often correspond to significant fossil occurrences, following the principle of faunal succession. Presently, Earth is officially classified within the Phanerozoic eon, Cenozoic era, Quaternary period, Holocene epoch, and the Meghalayan age.

What is the Anthropocene Epoch?

  • The concept of the Anthropocene epoch originated in 2000, coined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen and biology professor Eugene Stoermer
  • In simple terms, the Anthropocene, proposed as a new geological epoch, marks a period where human activity has profoundly impacted Earth's systems. 
  • Phenomena associated with the Anthropocene include global warming, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, soil erosion, heat waves, and biodiversity loss. 

Key Findings by AWG: 

  • Members of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), comprising 35 geologists, have analyzed sediments from Crawford Lake, indicating that the new epoch likely commenced between 1950 and 1954. 
  • These sediments have captured traces of large-scale fossil fuel burning, nuclear weapons testing fallout, and the widespread use of plastic and fertilizers, among other human-induced changes. 
  • The AWG selected Crawford Lake, measuring 79 feet deep and covering 25,800 square feet, due to its well-preserved sediment layers reflecting annual human impacts on soil, atmosphere, and biology.

Proposed Human Epoch: 

  • The proposed 'Human Epoch', known as the Holocene epoch, commenced approximately 11,700 years ago, marking the end of the Last Glacial Period (LGP). During the LGP, glaciers covered about 25% of the Earth's land surface, sea levels were significantly lower by up to 400 feet, and the average global temperature dropped to 8 degrees Celsius.
  • The warming of the Earth during the Holocene coincided with the emergence and proliferation of human civilizations. Although Homo sapiens had evolved before the onset of the Holocene, all recorded human history falls within this epoch.
  • Many geoscientists since the year 2000 (with the introduction of the term Anthropocene) supported the idea, arguing that human impact on the Earth warrants the recognition of a new epoch.
  • The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), consisting of 37 researchers, began deliberations in 2009 to determine the starting point of this epoch. After years of discussion, they settled on the year 1952. This period, following World War II, is regarded as the "Great Acceleration," characterized by exponential growth in human population, increased burning of fossil fuels, widespread use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, the proliferation of plastics, and the global fallout from nuclear tests.

Latest Development: Proposal got Rejected: 

  • The proposal for the Anthropocene epoch was met with rejection by the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS), a constituent body of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), voted 12 to 4 against the proposal, with two abstentions. According to the IUGS committee, the standards used to define epochs through chronostratigraphy did not support the addition of an Anthropocene epoch while terminating the Holocene.
  • Critics argue that epoch boundaries typically signify substantial geological changes, such as the massive ice coverage during the transition from the Holocene to the Pleistocene. Joseph Desloges, a professor at the University of Toronto, emphasized this point, highlighting that the Geological Time Scale (GTS) relies on solid rock records rather than sedimentary evidence like that from Crawford Lake, Ontario, Canada, which was selected as a key site by the AWG's proposal.


Despite the vote against establishing the Anthropocene as a new epoch, the evidence of human influence on Earth's geological record continues to mount. While the Anthropocene may not be officially recognized as a new epoch, many scientists argue that it should be viewed as an "event" rather than a distinct epoch. Events, in geological terminology, are not formally recognized on the Geological Time Scale (GTS) and therefore do not require committee approval for their designation. 

About the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS):

  • The Union was founded in March of 1961 in response to a need to coordinate geoscientific international research programs continuously.
  • The IUGS Secretariat is located in Beijing (China) and is financially supported by the Government of China and the IUGS.

Book A Free Counseling Session