Scientists Say: Anthropocene

This is the time during which humans have radically altered Earth’s land, oceans and atmosphere

a pair of hands holds a model of the Earth against a black backdrop

Welcome to the Anthropocene. This is the time period when humans have been a major force of change on planet Earth.

Cimmerian/E+/Getty Images

Anthropocene (noun, “AN-throh-puh-seen”)

This word describes the time period when humans have been a major force of change on Earth. Those changes have included pumping climate-warming gases into the atmosphere and littering the globe with plastic. Humans have also wiped out many species. Some scientists think humans have altered Earth so much that we’ve entered a new geological epoch. This is what they call the Anthropocene. It would follow the Holocene. That epoch began at the end of the last major ice age, about 11,700 years ago.

Not all scientists agree that we’ve moved from the Holocene to the Anthropocene. Geological epochs are defined by changes in layers of rock. Those changes record major events, such as asteroid impacts, volcanic eruptions and big temperature swings. It’s not yet clear whether humans have left such a lasting mark on Earth’s rock record.

If the Anthropocene is a distinct new epoch, it’s also not clear when it began. The Anthropocene could date back to the 1800s. That’s when the Industrial Revolution took off and humans started burning lots of fossil fuels. But some scientists pin the start of the Anthropocene to the Great Acceleration — the modern surge in human industry that began in the 1950s.

In a sentence

Humans have had such a profound impact on the world that some scientists think we’ve launched a new geological epoch, known as the Anthropocene.

Check out the full list of Scientists Say.

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

More Stories from Science News Explores on Earth