First atomic blast proposed as start of Anthropocene

For historians, the first atomic bomb blast in 1945 ushered in the nuclear age. But for a group of geologists, the 16 July test at Alamogordo, New Mexico, marks the start of a new unit of geological time, the Anthropocene epoch.


The term Anthropocene was coined 15 years ago to refer to the age of widespread human influence over the planet. Ever since, geologists have debated when people first left a clear mark in the rock record, and whether to enshrine that moment as the start of a formal geological unit.

“It’s a well defined spot in time — it’s a big historical event,” says Jan Zalasiewicz, a stratigrapher at the University of Leicester, UK, and lead author of the paper published this week1.

Zalasiewicz did the study with 25 other members of a working group that is exploring whether and how to formally define the Anthropocene. In their paper, the researchers propose that the boundary should be defined by the first A-bomb test in 1945 and the stratigraphic presence of radioactive elements from that blast and the much larger nuclear ones that took place over the next decade.

First atomic blast proposed as start of Anthropocene

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