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. 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, 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 (26)
  • lucasddd-3-bar
    6/02/2016 - 07:38 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for Earth's history by choosing something powerful that is based on what dominates the era. The second paragraph states "Today, scientists argue that we have started a new chapter in the story of Earth. It is the Anthropocene."
    This article was interesting and I did not know we had started a new era.

  • nicholasl-2-bar
    6/02/2016 - 09:35 p.m.

    Geologists pick the names for the Earth's history by picking something related to what's going on at that time. The word "anthro" means human in Greek, and anthropocene is the period where humans took over. This is how scientists pick the names for the Earth's history. I liked this article because it is cool. I was surprised that anthro meant human.

  • alexanderc-6-bar
    6/02/2016 - 11:07 p.m.

    As stated by the article, time periods in Earth's history are named for major events or discoveries. For example, the Cambrian Period is named after the Latin translation of Wales, where rocks from the period are most commonly studied. In the past, new eras, periods, or epochs were decided by mass extinctions, tectonic plate movements, or global dominance by one group of organisms. The latter is the topic of discussion in this article. As humans, we have dominated the planet and exist in all terrestrial regions. As a result, many scientists believe that this "Age of Humans" calls for a new division of time in Earth's history. It is interesting how we have expanded so much in just a few thousand years and uncertain what is yet to come.

  • kayah-4-bar
    6/03/2016 - 12:05 a.m.

    Geologist pick names for the Earth's history by looking at the era. For example, it shows here "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." (paragraph 6). This quote shows how they choose named from the eras because they name the Cambrian era and facts about it. I thought this article was interesting and I got to learn something I never knew.

  • luket-4-bar
    6/03/2016 - 01:16 a.m.

    Geologists pick names for eras of Earth's history by identifying the most notable part of the era,and naming after that. Some names are "Cambrian, Jurassic, Holocene, Pleistocene"
    I thought this article was interesting because I never knew why the eras were named what they were.

  • oscarb-1-bar
    6/03/2016 - 01:38 a.m.

    Geologists pick the names by finding layers of rock. 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." The rock layers tell time by the different shape and colors that have show up by time of being there. Skeletons are shown in the rock too. These rocks find the name because of the animals that dominated in it.

  • caitlynk-2-bar
    6/03/2016 - 02:25 a.m.

    Geologists pick the names for Earth's history by what happens in that era. For example this era is the Anthropocene Era. or "The Age of Humans". This article was interesting because now I know how geologists name era's of time and many more things about this era. This article surprised me because I found it hard to believe how much of a negative impact humans have cause over the short time we have been on Earth.

  • justiny-2-bar
    6/03/2016 - 10:06 a.m.

    Scientists name the time periods by what occurred or by what thrived during that time. The antropocene means the the age of humans. I found this article interesting because I did not know that we had our own time period named after us. I found this article surprising because I did not know that we altered the world so much in our existence.

  • avab-4-bar
    6/03/2016 - 04:06 p.m.

    The geologists pick the names for the Earth's history, by what has influenced this period of time the most. Anthropocene is named that because it means era of humans.

    I found this article interesting how we have expanded so much in just a few thousand years and uncertain what is yet to come.

  • vincents-1-bar
    6/06/2016 - 01:16 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.

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