Global peak in atmospheric radiocarbon provides a potential definition for the onset of the Anthropocene epoch in 1965

Chris S. M. Turney, Jonathan Palmer, Mark A. Maslin, Alan Hogg, Christopher J. Fogwill, John Southon, Pavla Fenwick, Gerhard Helle, Janet M. Wilmshurst, Matt McGlone, Christopher Bronk Ramsey, Zoë Thomas, Mathew Lipson, Brent Beaven, Richard T. Jones, Oliver Andrews, Quan Hua

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Anthropogenic activity is now recognised as having profoundly and permanently altered the Earth system, suggesting we have entered a human-dominated geological epoch, the ‘Anthropocene’. To formally define the onset of the Anthropocene, a synchronous global signature within geological-forming materials is required. Here we report a series of precisely-dated tree-ring records from Campbell Island (Southern Ocean) that capture peak atmospheric radiocarbon (14C) resulting from Northern Hemisphere-dominated thermonuclear bomb tests during the 1950s and 1960s. The only alien tree on the island, a Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis), allows us to seasonally-resolve Southern Hemisphere atmospheric 14C, demonstrating the ‘bomb peak’ in this remote and pristine location occurred in the last-quarter of 1965 (October-December), coincident with the broader changes associated with the post-World War II ‘Great Acceleration’ in industrial capacity and consumption. Our findings provide a precisely-resolved potential Global Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) or ‘golden spike’, marking the onset of the Anthropocene Epoch.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3293
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 19 Feb 2018

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