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Impacts of the Anthropocene Geological Era

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  • Alexandra Pearson

Geography – The Anthropocene

Throughout history, geological time periods have been given names to depict certain events. These time periods are named as eras, and the current geological era is known as the Anthropocene. The Anthropocene is defined as the “era of man”. This era is linked to drastic environmental changes that have taken place over hundreds of years due to human activity and the increase of industrialisation and technology. Humans have changed the global environment of the earth and the effect of human impact on the earth continues to increase during this Anthropocene era.

The geological era, the Anthropocene is used to describe the time human activities have impacted the global environment of the earth, it also describes how human societies have become a worldwide geophysical force (Steffen et al, 2007). The earth has gone through drastic environmental changes in the last few hundred years; this is due to human activities that have created an increasing impact on the global environment (Crutzen, 2006). Over the last three centuries, the human population and the rate of urbanisation has dramatically increased (McNiell, 2000 cited in Crutzen, 2006). The Anthropocene began approximately in the 1800s, with the introduction of industrialisation and the increased use of fossil fuels (Steffen et al, 2007).

Many scientists believe that the influence of humans on the environment began towards the end of the Pleistocene era as many of the so called “megafauna” had disappeared due to the arrival of modern humans. By the 1800s, industrialisation, deforestation, agriculture and the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere had increased rapidly, and the environment began to change before the industrial revolution (Zalasiewicz et al, 2011).

Scientists argue that the start of the Anthropocene era began when the Industrial Revolution took place. During the late 1700s and the early 1800s, there was a rapid increase in the usage of machinery and different industrial inventions. This was known as the Industrial Revolution, and it was the first human influence on the environmental change (Zalasiewicz et al, 2008). Many scientists believe that the Anthropocene geological era had began when the environment because of the worldwide environmental effects of the rapid increase in the human population and the development of economy (Zalasiewicz et al, 2008). The industrial revolution had caused the global environment to change significantly, carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere had increased rapidly and it was the beginning of the influence of humans on the environment.

Ever since the introduction of industrial machinery in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the global environment has changed significantly. There has been a rapid increase in the human population, an increase in carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and an increase in greenhouse gases. The increase in greenhouse gas concentration has had to have serious impacts on the environment, the concentration has increased over hundreds of years, and is continuing to increase and it has lead to a number of possible extinctions of species in areas that are sensitive to climate change (Hughes, 2000).

The increase of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have caused a decrease in the thickness of the ozone layer, the ozone layer’s function is to create a protective layer from the intense heat radiation from the sun around the earth. The greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide are a result in the increasing use of technology, the increasing use of machinery and the increasing use of using non - renewable resources such as fossil fuels. With the decreased thickness of this layer, more of the heat radiation from the sun penetrates the earth and causes global temperature increase (Hartmann et al, 1999). According to McCarty (2002), the earth’s climate has increased by 0.5 degrees over the past one hundred years. This temperature increase can result in major global consequences; it has already lead to polar ice sheets melting and has lead to the extinction and high possibility of extinction of species that live in sensitive environments such as polar bears. Additional threats will appear as the climate continues to change and as the temperature continues to increase.

As the human population increases, the availability of natural resources and non – renewable resources decreases. Overuse of these resources has resulted in a depletion of renewable resources (Pearce, 1988). As a result, in many developing countries, the resources have become scarce and have caused many problems globally. Due to human activities, in some countries the water and other habitats have been polluted by acid mine drainage. According to Johnson and Hallberg (2005), acid mine drainage causes environmental pollution in countries that have mining industries.

Humans have had major influences on the climate change during the current geological era, the Anthropocene. As the human population, greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere and temperature continues to increase, the global environmental climate will continue to change. Ice caps sheets will continue to rise as the ozone layer becomes thinner and sea levels will continue to rise, resulting in a massive loss in coastal regions, lives and species that live in the areas that are sensitive to climate change. During this geological era or epochs, most of the environmental change has been caused by some type of human activity whether it is mining, increases in industrialisation or by increased urbanisation. The introduction of modern humans and industrialisation has caused major environmental changes that are difficult to change or reverse.

To slow down the rapid global environmental and climate change, the use of renewable and non – renewable resources would have to be distributed evenly, the rate at which the human population is increasing would have to decrease and the amount of energy and fossil fuels used would also have to be decreased. If humans do not change the way that they distribute resources or control how much carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere, the global environment and climate will continue to decline and further complications will appear.

Therefore, the Anthropocene geological era is dominated by humans and the major environmental changes that have occurred in this era or epochs have mainly been caused by human activity such as mining, urbanisation or industrialisation. The Anthropocene era and the human activities that have taken place during this era are directly linked to the global environmental change that is seen in the world. Humans are the main cause for most of the major environmental and climate change during this era.

References

Crutzen, P.J. (2006). The “Anthropocene”, Earth System Science in the Anthropocene, 13-18.

Hartmann, D.L., Wallace, J.M., Limpasuvan, V., Thompson, D.W.J., Holton, J.R. (1999). Can ozone depletion and global warming interact to produce rapid climate change?, Cross Mark: 97(4), 1412- 1417.

Hughes, L. (2000). Biological Consequences of Global Warming: is the signal already apparent?, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 15 (2): 56 -61.

Johnson, D.B., Hallberg, K.B. (2005). Acid Mine Drainage Remediation Options: a review, Science of the total environment, Elsevier: 338 (1-2): 3-14

McCarty, J.P. (2002). Ecological Consequences of Recent Climate Change, Conversation Biology: 15(2), 320 – 331.

Pearce, D. (1988). The Sustainable use of natural resources in developing countries, Sustainable Environmental Management: Principles and Practice: 102- 117

Steffen, W., Crutzen, P. J., McNeill, J.R. (2007). The Anthropocene: Are Humans Now Overwhelming The Great Forces Of Nature, AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment, 36 (8): 614-621.

Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Haywood, A., Ellis, M. (2011). The Anthropocene: a new epoch of geological time?, Philosophical Transactions: The Royal Society Publishing.

Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M., Smith, A., Barry, T.L., Coe, A. L., Brown, P.R., Brenchley, P., Cantrill, D., Gale, A., Gibbard, P., Gregory, F. J., Hounslow, M. W., Kerr, A.C., Pearson, P., Knox, R. Powell, J., Waters, C., Marshall, J., Oates, M., Rawson,P. And Stone, P. (2008). Are we now living in the Anthropocene?, GSA Today, 18 (2): 4-8.


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