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. 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. The scientists 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. It is 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 profound 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. That was 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 (65)
  • sydneym-3-bar
    6/01/2016 - 05:52 p.m.

    Geologist pick the names for the Earth's history by what happened during that time. According to the article, during each age something special happened, which helped the scientists choose a name for the article. An example is the time we are in right now, which is the Anthropocene, or age of humans. Since humans have been changing many things in earth, they have decided to give the time this title. I found this interesting because it reminded me how much us humans affect the earth.

  • michaely-6-bar
    6/01/2016 - 08:26 p.m.

    Geologists pick names for Earth's history to record how much the Earth has changed overtime. Since humans have altered the Earth so much, "scientists argue that we have started a new chapter in the story of Earth. It is the Anthropocene." (paragraph 3). Humans have only been around for a extremely short time on Earth's timeline. But since we are altering the planet so much and are the dominant species of this era, scientists are arguing that the age of humans are a new chapter of Earth. In this way, humans have altered the Earth just by existing, but also by the decisions we have made. that is why geologists pick the names for the Earth’s history. I thought this article was interesting and found that scientists already naming the age of humans surprising.

  • william1108-yyca
    6/01/2016 - 08:48 p.m.

    I never knew that earth has been around for about 4.6 million years. I thought it would be more. But now that I have read this article I now know about that. And also I never knew that people could study planets by their rock layers. Maybe one day I will learn more.

  • josiahm-kut
    6/02/2016 - 07:55 a.m.

    Geologists pick the names of the different time periods by figuring out how many rock layers are existent and split the different layers into different time periods. For example the Jurassic era.

  • jacksonm-2-bar
    6/02/2016 - 10:20 a.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the darts history by looking at what was the dominant species at the time and naming it something in that nature. For example the Pleistocene era was the last known glacial period. That period lasted over 2,588,000 years.

    I thought this article was interesting because i have always wondered what the first life on earth was.

  • carlosp-kut
    6/02/2016 - 12:10 p.m.

    We have to do something to help the earth, because if we keep harming our home, then it will be our turn to become extinct

  • calvinh-4-bar
    6/02/2016 - 01:03 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the Earth's history by determining what happened during a certain period of time. The Earth has gone through a few eras and the eras are determined by the special thing that occurred during that time. The Anthropocene is the age of the humans because humans have been the dominant species for some time.
    I found this article interesting because I wonder what future generations will think when they look back at the early stages of the Anthropocene.

  • dashiellg-3-bar
    6/02/2016 - 01:09 p.m.

    Geologist pick the names for the Earth's history by what happened during that time. According to the article, during each age something special happened, which helped the scientists choose a name for the article. An example is the time we are in right now, which is the Anthropocene, or age of humans. Since humans have been changing many things in earth, they have decided to give the time this title. I found this interesting because it reminded me how much us humans affect the earth.

  • tialden-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 01:13 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for Earth's history by representing the names as events that occurred during that time period. In example,the Jurassic period was the "Age Of The Reptiles." As stated in the article, the Earth is about 4.6 billion years old. Geologists can read the planet's history by looking at rock layers. I found this article useful because now I know what period I live in,the Anthropocene period.

  • tyn-2-bar
    6/02/2016 - 03:10 p.m.

    Geologists pick the name of Earth's history by the words meanings of their latin roots. In the article, it says that the "Cambrian was the first geological period of the Paleozoic Era." In latin, paleo means "older or ancient, especially relating to the geological past." Zoic means "forming adjectives relating to a particular manner of animal existence." So, Paleozoic means ancient animals. This proves that geologists use the latin roots to name Eras.
    I think that humans wouldn't be a problem if there weren't 7.1 billion of us.

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