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Episodes 2022; 45(4): 359-376

Published online December 1, 2022


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The Great Acceleration is real and provides a quantitative basis for the proposed Anthropocene Series/Epoch

Martin J. Head1*, Will Steffen2, David Fagerlind3, Colin N. Waters4, Clement Poirier5, Jaia Syvitski6, Jan A. Zalasiewicz4, Anthony D. Barnosky7, Alejandro Cearreta8, Catherine Jeandel9, Reinhold Leinfelder10, J.R. McNeill11, Neil L. Rose12, Colin Summerhayes13, Michael Wagreich14, Jens Zinke4

1 Department of Earth Sciences, Brock University, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, St. Catharines, Ontario L2S 3A1, Canada
2 Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
3 Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University, Kräftriket 2B, SE-10691, Sweden
4 School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
5 Normandie Université, UNICAEN, UNIROUEN, CNRS, M2C, 14000 Caen, France
6 INSTAAR, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
7 Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
8 Departamento de Geología, Facultad de Ciencia y Tecnología, Universidad del País Vasco UPV/EHU, Apartado 644, 48080 Bilbao, Spain
9 LEGOS, Université de Toulouse, CNES, CNRS, IRD, UPS, 14 avenue Édouard Belin, 31400 Toulouse, France
10 Department of Geological Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Malteserstr. 74-100/D, 12249 Berlin, Germany
11 Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA
12 Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of Geography, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
13 Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER, UK
14 Department of Geodynamics and Sedimentology, University of Vienna, A-1090 Vienna, Austria

Correspondence to:E-mail: mjhead@brocku.ca

Received: April 7, 2021; Revised: October 7, 2021; Accepted: October 7, 2021

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0) which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


The Anthropocene was conceptualized in 2000 to reflect the extensive impact of human activities on our planet, and subsequent detailed analyses have revealed a substantial Earth System response to these impacts beginning in the mid-20th century. Key to this understanding was the discovery of a sharp upturn in a multitude of global socio-economic indicators and Earth System trends at that time; a phenomenon termed the ‘Great Acceleration’. It coincides with massive increases in global human-consumed energy and shows the Earth System now on a trajectory far exceeding the earlier variability of the Holocene Epoch, and in some respects the entire Quaternary Period. The evaluation of geological signals similarly shows the mid-20th century as representing the most appropriate inception for the Anthropocene. A recent mathematical analysis has nonetheless challenged the significance of the original Great Acceleration data. We examine this analytical approach and reiterate the robustness of the original data in supporting the Great Acceleration, while emphasizing that intervals of rapid growth are inevitably time-limited, as recognised at the outset. Moreover, the exceptional magnitude of this growth remains undeniable, reaffirming the centrality of the Great Acceleration in justifying a formal chronostratigraphic Anthropocene at the rank of series/epoch.