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The Anthropocene: A New Epoch in the Earth’s History

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The Anthropocene: A New Epoch in the Earth's History

The Anthropocene: A New Epoch in the Earth’s History

Over the course of Earth’s history, there have been dramatic shifts in the landscape, climate, and biodiversity of the planet. And it is all archived underground.

Layers of the planet’s crust carry evidence of pivotal moments that changed the face of the Earth, such as the ice age and asteroid hits. And scientists have recently defined the next major epoch using this geological time scale—the Anthropocene.

In this infographic we dig deep into the Earth’s geological timeline to reveal the planet’s shift from one epoch to another, and the specific events that separate them.

Understanding the Geological Timeline

The Earth’s geological history is divided into many distinct units, from eons to ages. The time span of each varies, since they’re dependent on major events like new species introduction, as well as how they fit into their parent units.

Geochronologic unitTime spanExample
EonSeveral hundred million years to two billion yearsPhanerozoic
EraTens to hundreds of millions of yearsCenozoic
PeriodMillions of years to tens of millions of yearsQuaternary
EpochHundreds of thousands of years to tens of millions of yearsHolocene
AgeThousands of years to millions of yearsMeghalayan

Note: Subepochs (between epochs and ages) have also been ratified for use in 2022, but are not yet clearly defined.

If we were to cut a mountain in half, we could notice layers representing these changing spans of time, marked by differences in chemical composition and accumulated sediment.

Some boundaries are so distinct and so widespread in the geologic record that they are known as “golden spikes.” Golden spikes can be climatic, magnetic, biological, or isotopic (chemical).

Earth’s Geological Timeline Leading Up to the Anthropocene

The Earth has gone through many epochs leading up to the modern Anthropocene.

These include epochs like the Early Devonian, which saw the dawn of the first early shell organisms 400 million years ago, and the three Jurassic epochs, which saw dinosaurs become the dominant terrestrial vertebrates.

Over the last 11,700 years, we have been living in the Holocene epoch, a relatively stable period that enabled human civilization to flourish. But after millennia of human activity, this epoch is quickly making way for the Anthropocene.

EpochIts start (MYA = Million Years Ago)
Anthropocene70 Years Ago
Holocene0.01 MYA
Pleistocene2.58 MYA
Pliocene5.33 MYA
Miocene23.04 MYA
Oligocene33.90 MYA
Eocene56.00 MYA
Paleocene66.00 MYA
Cretaceous145.0 MYA
Jurassic201.40 MYA
Triassic251.90 MYA
Lopingian259.50 MYA
Guadalupian273.00 MYA
Cisuralian300.00 MYA
Pennsylvanian323.40 MYA
Mississippian359.30 MYA
Devonian419.00 MYA
Silurian422.70 MYA
Ludlow426.70 MYA
Wenlock432.90 MYA
Llandovery443.10 MYA
Ordovician486.90 MYA
Furongian497.00 MYA
Miaolingian521.00 MYA
Terreneuvian538.80 MYA

The Anthropocene is distinguished by a myriad of imprints on the Earth including the proliferation of plastic particles and a noticeable increase in carbon dioxide levels in sediments.

A New Chapter in Earth’s History

The clearest identified marker of this geological time shift, and the chosen golden spike for the Anthropocene, is radioactive plutonium from nuclear testing in the 1950s.

The best example has been found in the sediment of Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada. The lake has two distinct layers of water that never intermix, causing falling sediments to settle in distinct layers at its bed over time.

While the International Commission on Stratigraphy announced the naming of the new epoch in July 2023, Crawford Lake is still in the process of getting approved as the site that marks the new epoch. If selected, our planet will officially enter the Crawfordian Age of the Anthropocene.

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Environment

Charted: Share of World Forests by Country

We visualize which countries have the biggest share of world forests by area—and while country size plays a factor, so too, does the environment.

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A cropped pie chart showing the share of world forest by country.

Charted: Share of World Forests by Country

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

The world contains over three trillion trees.

The tropics and subtropics account for slightly less than half of all trees (1.3 trillion), the boreal regions for about one-fourth (0.74 trillion) and the temperate regions about one-fifth of the world’s forests (0.66 trillion).

What does this look like on a per country basis?

Using data from the World Bank, we visualize the share of the world’s total forest area per country.

Naturally larger countries tend to have more forest area, and thus, a greater percentage of the world’s forests, but it’s interesting to see how local environments also influence the metric.

Ranked: Countries with the Largest Share of World Forests

At the top of the list, Russia, has more than one-fifth of the world’s forests by itself. This is equal to 8 million km2 of forest, slightly less than half of the entire country.

RankCountryForest Area (Sq. km)Forest Area (% of
World's Forests)
1🇷🇺 Russia8,153,11620.1%
2🇧🇷 Brazil4,953,91412.3%
3🇨🇦 Canada3,468,9118.6%
4🇺🇸 U.S.3,097,9507.7%
5🇨🇳 China2,218,5785.5%
6🇦🇺 Australia1,340,0513.3%
7🇨🇩 DRC1,250,5393.1%
8🇮🇩 Indonesia915,2772.3%
9🇮🇳 India724,2641.8%
10🇵🇪 Peru721,5751.8%
11🇦🇴 Angola660,5231.6%
12🇲🇽 Mexico655,6431.6%
13🇨🇴 Colombia589,4261.5%
14🇧🇴 Bolivia506,2081.3%
15🇻🇪 Venezuela461,7341.1%
16🇹🇿 Tanzania452,7601.1%
17🇿🇲 Zambia446,2581.1%
18🇲🇿 Mozambique364,9760.9%
19🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea358,2220.9%
20🇦🇷 Argentina284,6370.7%

The fifth-biggest (and sixth-most populated) country, Brazil, ranks second with slightly more than 12% of total forests, close to 5 million km2, which is more than 60% of the whole country. The biggest contributor to its forest cover is the Amazon, which has lost 237,000 km2 in the span of five years because of deforestation. The Amazon is also a significant part of Peru’s forest cover (ranked 10th on this list, with 1.8% share).

Canada and the U.S. each have about 8% of the world’s forests within their borders. Both countries have developed beloved national park systems aimed at protecting the natural biodiversity of the continent.

China rounds out the top five, with its 5.5% share. Unlike other nations whose forest cover has seen a steady decline, China managed to increase its forest area by 511,807 km2 in two and a half decades, an area that is bigger than the entirety of Thailand. The country also aims to have about 30% of the country covered by forests by 2050. Critics state that this massive reforestation drive might come at the cost of maintaining natural tree species, and instead promotes monocultures of non-native trees.

Meanwhile, Australia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) each share 3% of the world’s forests. The Congo Basin, the world’s second largest tropical rainforest, contributes heavily to the latter’s forest cover, and spreads out over five other countries: Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.

Indonesia, India, and Peru round out the top 10 with a 2% share each.

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