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Episodes 2024; 47(1): 65-83

Published online March 1, 2024


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

The Anthropocene within the Geological Time Scale: a response to fundamental questions

Jan Zalasiewicz1*, Martin J. Head 2, Colin N. Waters1, Simon D. Turner3, Peter K. Haff 4, Colin Summerhayes5, Mark Williams1, Alejandro Cearreta6, Michael Wagreich7, Ian Fairchild 8, Neil L. Rose3, Yoshiki Saito9, Reinhold Leinfelder10, Barbara Fiałkiewicz-Kozieł11, Zhisheng An12, Jaia Syvitski13, Agnieszka Gałuszka14, Francine M. G. McCarthy2, Juliana Ivar do Sul15, Anthony Barnosky16, Andrew B. Cundy17, J. R. McNeill18, Jens Zinke1

1School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, University of Leicester, University Road, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
2Department of Earth Sciences, Brock University, 1812 Sir Isaac Brock Way, St. Catharines, Ontario L2S 3A1, Canada
3Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of Geography, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, UK
4Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, 9 Circuit Drive, Box 90238, Durham, 16 NC 27708, USA
5Scott Polar Research Institute, Lensfield Road, Cambridge CB2 1ER, UK
6Departamento de Geología, Facultad de Ciencia y Tecnología, Universidad del País Vasco UPV/EHU, Apartado 644, 48080 Bilbao, Spain
7Department of Geology, University of Vienna, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
8School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham B15 2TT, UK
9Estuary Research Center, Shimane University, Matsue 690-8504, Japan
10Department of Geological Sciences, Freie Universität Berlin, Malteserstr. 74-100/D, 12249 Berlin, Germany
11Adam Mickiewicz University, Faculty of Geographical and Geological Sciences, Institute of Geoecology and Geoinformation, Biogeochemistry Research Unit, Krygowskiego 10, Poznań 2861-680, Poland
12State Key Laboratory of Loess and Quaternary Geology, Institute of Earth Environment, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Xi’an 710061, China
13INSTAAR, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO 80309, USA
14Geochemistry and the Environment Division, Institute of Chemistry, Jan Kochanowski University, 7 Uniwersytecka St, 25-406 Kielce, Poland
15Leibniz Institute for Baltic Sea Research, Warnemünde (IOW), Rostock, Germany
16Department of Integrative Biology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA
17School of Ocean and Earth Science, University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, SO14 3ZH, UK
18Georgetown University, Washington DC, USA

Correspondence to:*E-mail: jaz1@leicester.ac.uk

Received: May 11, 2023; Revised: October 9, 2023; Accepted: October 9, 2023

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 as a prospective new, ongoing series/epoch must be defensible against all relevant concerns. We address the seven, still-relevant challenges posed to the Anthropocene Working Group by the Chair, International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS), in 2014. (1) Concept or reality? The Anthropocene possesses a substantial, sharply distinctive stratigraphic record recognisable through many proxy signals from the mid-20th century onwards; (2) GSSP or GSSA? The Anthropocene can be defined by a GSSP and correlated globally; (3) Past or future? The Anthropocene unquestionably represents geological time, its transformations having already moved the Earth System beyond Holocene norms towards an irreversible future trajectory; (4) Utility? The Anthropocene’s distinctive material content allows useful delineation on geological sections/maps; (5) Indelibility? Many of the Anthropocene’s transformative effects cannot be subsequently effaced or overprinted; (6) Fit within the Geological Time Scale (GTS)? The Anthropocene represents a unique, youngest, interval in Earth history and strata of profound significance; (7) What is its value? The chronostratigraphic Anthropocene has conceptual usefulness even informally, but would then lack the clarity, stability and recognition that formalization provides. Without its formalization, the GTS would no longer accurately reflect Earth history, diminishing the relevance of geological science for analysis of ongoing planetary change.