What is the Anthropocene and why does it matter? Discover why scientists think we are in a new geologic age and what it means for our future. (Smithsonian Digital Studio)
What is the Anthropocene and why does it matter?
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Earth has been around for about 4.6 billion years, and the planet has been through all kinds of changes during that time, from white-hot oceans of magma to a frozen coating of glaciers to diverse ecosystems filled with life.
 
Geologists can read the planet's history by looking at distinct signatures in its rock layers, and they mark each chapter with a meaningful title: Cambrian, Jurassic, Holocene, Pleistocene, just to name a few.

Today, scientists argue that we have started a new chapter in the story of Earth: the Anthropocene, and for the first time in the planet's history, one species is its primary author.
 
The animation below explains what scientists mean when they talk about the Anthropocene and why our actions in this "age of humans" matter for everyone's future.
 
You may not know precisely what the eras of the Earth are. Just what is the Anthropocene?  It is viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
 
As for the other eras, the Cambrian was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era. It occurred 541 to 485.4 million years ago and is noted for its significant change in life on Earth with the introduction of more diverse life forms.
 
The Jurassic period occurred 201.3 to 145.5 million years ago. The Jurassic era makes up the middle period of the Mesozoic Era and often is known as the Age of Reptiles.
 
The Pleistocene era lasted about 2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago. The end of this era corresponds to the end of the last glacial period.
 
The Holocene era began after the Pleistocene era, around 11,700 years before A.D. 2000 and continues to the present. It is part of the Quaternary period. It includes the growth and impact of humans across the globe.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How do geologists pick the names for the Earth’s history?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (3)
  • holdeno-3-bar
    6/02/2016 - 12:22 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the Earth's history by translating important things that happened during a said period of time into Latin. For example, geologists called the time period from 201 million years ago to 145 million years ago the Jurassic, which comes from "'juria', meaning forest (i.e., 'Jura' is forest mountains)" (Google search) Since there were an abundance of forests and mountains during that time period, geologists named it accordingly.
    I was intrigued by this article because it says that we have created a new age for ourselves.

  • erino-6-bar
    6/05/2016 - 12:55 a.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the Earth's history by looking at and drastic changes such as changes in climate, species, atmosphere, or even the arrangement of the continents. They then found a Latin word that corresponds to how the Earth changed since the last era and used it to create the name.

    I thought this was interesting because this is the first time that one species has been in control of the changes occurring on a global scale.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    7/31/2016 - 01:43 a.m.

    Geologists pick names for the Earth's history by looking at the most significant changes of the time period they are naming. For example, the Jurassic era was named for the existence of dinosaurs and their rule over the world. I wonder what era will follow the Anthropocene, the age of humans.

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