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Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Apr 7;49(7):4155-62. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b00543. Epub 2015 Mar 30.

Spheroidal carbonaceous fly ash particles provide a globally synchronous stratigraphic marker for the Anthropocene.

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  • 1Environmental Change Research Centre, Department of Geography, University College London, Gower Street, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom.


Human impacts on Earth are now so great that they have led to the concept of a new geological epoch defined by this global human influence: the Anthropocene. While not universally accepted, the term is increasingly popular and widely used. However, even among proponents, there is considerable debate regarding when the epoch may have started, from coeval with the Holocene, through the Industrial Revolution, to the mid-20th century when unprecedented human activities resulted in exponential increases in population, resource consumption, and pollutant emission. Recently, this latter period, known as the Great Acceleration, appears to be becoming the more widely accepted start date. To define any start point, a global stratigraphic marker or Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) is typically required. Here, spheroidal carbonaceous fly ash particles (SCPs), byproducts of industrial fossil-fuel combustion, are proposed as a primary marker for a GSSP at the time of the Great Acceleration. Data from over 75 lake sediment records show a global, synchronous, and dramatic increase in particle accumulation starting in c. 1950 driven by the increased demand for electricity and the introduction of fuel-oil combustion, in addition to coal, as a means to produce it. SCPs are morphologically distinct and solely anthropogenic in origin, providing an unambiguous marker. This is a clear signal of great stratigraphic utility representing a primary driving force for global anthropogenic change.

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