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Anthropocene Series of Prints

             by S.T. Paxton

The purpose of the Anthropocene Series of prints is to promote discussion about the role of humans as a geological force in nature. 

Evidence for human activity on the surface of the earth is abundant and varied. Satellites capture images of the earth from space 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Many of these images of earth’s surface, publicly available from NASA/USGS, are beautiful in their own right and form the heart of the Anthropocene Series of prints. 

What is “Anthropocene”? 

Anthropocene, or the “Age of Man”, is a name proposed by scientists for a new geological epoch of time in which evidence for humans and human activity on earth is detectible in the sedimentary layers of the planet. Other popular ages, based on fossils and other material evidence found in the rocks (from oldest to youngest), include (1) Age of Trilobites, (2) Age of Fishes, (3) Age of Coal, (4) Age of Amphibians, (5) Age of Reptiles, (6) Age of Mammals, (7) Ice Age, and now, (8) Age of Man!

Through agriculture, extraction of natural resources, and urban development, humans have accelerated the rate at which soils are eroded from the continents. The soils are transported and carried from the continents to the ocean basins by streams and rivers. In the ocean basins, the soil particles accumulate to form extensive layers of sediment that contain physical and chemical by-products of our society.

For instance, inspection of modern mud that accumulates on the ocean floor reveals the presence of small particles of plastic. These small bits of plastic are derived from degraded plastic bags and bottles. Also, analysis of the chemistry of ocean sediments reveals the presence of bisphenol A, a chemical used in the production of plastics (polycarbonates and epoxy resins, specifically).

These muddy ocean sediments, derived from erosion of soils (and with plastics included), are modern sedimentary rocks in the making. With the passage of time and, aided by future continental collisions and mountain building, these layers of muddy sediment will be transformed into sedimentary rocks containing evidence of humans and our global activities.

Click on this link to watch a well done video put together by the Planet Under Pressure committee for a conference held in London during March, 2012.


The following links cover some of the debate about the proposed new geologic epoch called the “Anthropocene”.











Quarrymen preparing granite for the Mormon Temple, Salt Lake County, Utah, 1872. Image modified from W.H. Jackson’s original photograph. The original image is available from U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library. Digital editing and design by Geology Works.

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One thought on “Anthropocene

  1. Very good Stan.
    Maybe a few words on the advantages and disadvantages of these modifications of our earth? Like water supply being depleted too fast, change of climate, flora and fauna decimated and new species coming in. Small towns being abandoned for varying reasons such as health, water pollution, air pollution. I know it probably would be a tough job but people looking at the pictures probably think it is “cute” and evidence of “man’s” genius – like shale-gas or bitumen sands. Speaking of bitumen sands, you should try to get some images of the poor earth around the bitumen sands “quarrying”. I am sad when I hear people laugh at those who complain about shale gas and the fracing technology effects on their drinking water, and of course, the earthquakes. Aren’t we citizens of the world first? I experienced similar cycles with the asbestos industry (in denying health effects for years). See where we are now? People are still dying from asbestos exposure and the companies are still denying the cause-effect connection.
    Take care


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