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 (66)
  • aidano-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 03:19 p.m.

    The Anthropocene Era is referred to by scientists as the age of human existence. " The scientists mark each chapter with a meaningful title: Cambrian, Jurassic, Holocene, Pleistocene, just to name a few." This continued with the Anthropocene, which is obviously our current generation. I found this article very interesting because I did not know what we referred to our current era as other than the present. Now I know that it is referred to as the Anthropocene Era, which I hope will continue for many many years to come.

  • seans-2-bar
    6/02/2016 - 03:26 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names of the various eras in Earth's history by listing them as the Latin versions of a species or major event that occurred during that time. An example is the era that geologists agree we are currently in,the Anthropocene, or the age of humans. This article was informational and entertaining.

  • emmetts-kut
    6/02/2016 - 03:39 p.m.

    How Geologists pick names for history is they take the species that were most common in that time, now they either leave it like that or add "cene" to it.

  • taylorp-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 04:07 p.m.

    Scientists pick names for Earth's history by the major events which have happened during that era. "Scientist argue that we have started a new chapter in the story of Earth. It is the Anthropocene." (Paragraph 3). Since the humans are majorly affecting the climate and environment, this new chapter is named after us, the humans. I enjoyed this article because it gave some insight as to how different eras are named aporopriately.

  • summerc-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 04:08 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the Earth's history according to what occurred at the time.Depending on what had happened, say during the 1860s, the Reconstruction Era occurred. The title is appropriate for what happened, since the economies were trying their best to rebuild after the Civil War.
    It's cool how geologists pick the names for important time periods during Earth's history and just history in general.

  • rorys-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 05:47 p.m.

    Geologists pick names for Earth's history by first looking for different signatures in rock layers. In the article it states that "Geologists can read the planet's history by looking at distinct signatures in its rock layers." By doing so they are noticing different things that may make Earth's surface different than what it is now. For example when the planet was young it had molten rock all over the surface. Then a few billion years later glaciers ravaged the land during the ice age.

    Opinion: I thought this article was cool how it states how the scientists classify and determine when a new era is. Also I have been wondering this for quite a while.

  • zeusr-3-bar
    6/02/2016 - 06:06 p.m.

    Geologist pick the names for Earth's history based on distinct signatures in it's rock layers.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.

  • tylera-1-bar
    6/02/2016 - 06:09 p.m.

    Geologists pick names for Earth's history to show what changes have happened over time. For example geologists named the Jurassic, meaning age of reptiles, after all the species which were mainly reptiles that lived on the planet. I find it interesting that a couple scientists can be responsible for the name of a period that spans millions of years.

  • sean1116-byo
    6/02/2016 - 07:35 p.m.

    This article was very interesting. It shows how long Earth has existed and how far we can go back and see the history of our home. I think this shows how smart humans are and this is the reasons why we are the dominant species of Earth. Also we are changing the Earth showing that we are a significant part of Earth. Its amazing that the Earth lives this long and can have a big history like ours.

  • taylorh-4-bar
    6/02/2016 - 08:18 p.m.

    Geologists pick names for Earth's history by what was happening at the time of the historical event. As the article states, "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." I found this article interesting because I did not know this before I read the article.

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