Sciency Words: Anthropocene

Today’s post is part of a special series here on Planet Pailly called Sciency Words. Every Friday, we take a look at a new and interesting scientific term to help us all expand our scientific vocabularies together. Today’s word is:


As recently as 2012, scientists have confirmed there is life on Earth. Do not underestimate the effect life can have on a planet. Do not underestimate the even greater effect of intelligent life.

Ap02 Life on Earth

The term Anthropocene is a fairly new addition to the scientific lexicon. It’s still unclear whether or not the term will stick.

Anthropocene loosely refers to the era of Earth’s geological history when human beings (anthropos is Greek for human) have had the greatest geological impact on the planet.

How have we impacted the geology of our planet? Just think of all the digging we do. Think of all the minerals we’ve extracted from Earth’s crust. Think of how acid rain weathers the landscape or how garbage decomposes (or sometimes doesn’t), changing the makeup of the soil, the atmosphere, the oceans…

Think of all the effects of artificial rather than natural processes: this is the meaning and significance of the Anthropocene epoch.

Of course, the use of this term is not without controversy. Geological epochs are supposed to correspond to rock strata. They’re supposed to have clearly defined boundaries. Where, exactly, is the boundary marking the beginning of the Anthropocene? There isn’t one, yet, because we’re still living in it.

In the future, especially the distant future, the boundaries of the Anthropocene might be very easy to identify. Hundreds or thousands of years from now, the Anthropocene may be a well-established historical and geological fact. Or maybe not.

So do you think characters in a Sci-Fi future would talk about the Anthropocene epoch? If they do, what would they say?

P.S.: Throughout the month of April, as part of the 2015 Mission to the Solar System, we’ll be exploring the planet Earth—in many ways the strangest planet in the Solar System, for reasons you might not expect.


What Is the Anthropocene and Are We in It? from

Generation Anthropocene: Stories About Planetary Change.

8 thoughts on “Sciency Words: Anthropocene

  1. If humans go extinct, I think alien Xenoarchaeologists will probably look closely at the time division that starts at the first nuclear blasts, it’s a really obvious one to spot.

    I’m trying to think of whether widespread coal-burning leaves an easy signature… It’s been too many years since I was involved with Paleolimnology…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hadn’t thought about the geological evidence that would be left by nuclear activity. I wonder what aliens in the distant future would think when they uncover our repositories of nuclear waste.


      1. Yes, there’s something you can look for (a Cesium isotope, if I remember correctly) which was not found in the environment before the WWII nuclear bombs. It’s a really useful short-term date reference.

        I’m not sure if future aliens would think much of our nuclear waste dumps, they’d probably just think they were some kind of natural radioactive deposit, unless they were mining for those, and then found that the elements/isotopes were all wrong at their latest mine.

        Hopefully, they’ll wonder what the hell the French were thinking when dumping metal barrels full of radioactive waste into the ocean.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Stories & Soliloquies and commented:
    In lieu of this week’s entry into the Philosopher’s Lexicon, I invite you to tai a look at Planet Pailly’s series “Sciency Words”. This particular entry on the word “anthropocene” certainly invites philosophical contemplation. Enjoy!


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