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Episodes 2022; 45(4): 349-357

Published online December 1, 2022


Copyright © International Union of Geological Sciences.

A practical solution: the Anthropocene is a geological event, not a formal epoch

Philip L. Gibbard1, Andrew M. Bauer2*, Matthew Edgeworth3, William F. Ruddiman4, Jacquelyn L. Gill5, Dorothy J. Merritts6, Stanley C. Finney7, Lucy E. Edwards8, Michael J. C. Walker9, Mark Maslin10,11, Erle C. Ellis12

1 Scott Polar Research Institute, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, CB2 1ER, UK
2 Department of Anthropology, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, USA
3 School of Archaeology and Ancient History, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7RH, UK
4 Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA 22904, USA
5 Climate Change Institute and School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine, Orono, ME 04469, USA
6 Department of Earth and Environment, Franklin and Marshall College, Post Office Box 3003, Lancaster, PA 17604, USA
7 Department of Geological Sciences, California State University, Long Beach, California 90840, USA
8 Florence Bascom Geoscience Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia 20192, USA
9 Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, Wales, SY23 3FL, UK
10 Department of Geography, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT, UK
11 Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, Gothersgade 130, 1123 København K, Denmark
12 Department of Geography and Environmental Systems, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Baltimore, Maryland 21250, USA

Correspondence to:E-mail: ambauer@stanford.edu

Received: July 6, 2021; Revised: October 4, 2021; Accepted: October 4, 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 has yet to be defined in a way that is functional both to the international geological community and to the broader fields of environmental and social sciences. Formally defining the Anthropocene as a chronostratigraphical series and geochronological epoch with a precise global start date would drastically reduce the Anthropocene’s utility across disciplines. Instead, we propose the Anthropocene be defined as a geological event, thereby facilitating a robust geological definition linked with a scholarly framework more useful to and congruent with the many disciplines engaging with human-environment interactions. Unlike formal epochal definitions, geological events can recognize the spatial and temporal heterogeneity and diverse social and environmental processes that interact to produce anthropogenic global environmental changes. Consequently, an Anthropocene Event would incorporate a far broader range of transformative human cultural practices and would be more readily applicable across academic fields than an Anthropocene Epoch, while still enabling a robust stratigraphic characterization.