Is there an isotopic signature of the Anthropocene?

Bibliographic Collection: 
Publication Type: Journal Article
Authors: Dean, J.; Leng, M.; Mackay, A.
Year of Publication: 2014
Journal: The Anthropocene Review
Date Published: 07/2014
Publication Language: eng

We consider whether the Anthropocene is recorded in the isotope geochemistry of the atmosphere, sediments, plants and ice cores, and the time frame during which any changes are recorded, presenting examples from the literature. Carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios have become more depleted since the 19th century, with the rate of change accelerating after ∼AD 1950, linked to increased emissions from fossil fuel consumption and increased production of fertiliser. Lead isotope ratios demonstrate human pollution histories several millennia into the past, while sulphur isotopes can be used to trace the sources of acid rain. Radioisotopes have been detectable across the planet since the 1950s because of atmospheric nuclear bomb tests and can be used as a stratigraphic marker. We find there is isotopic evidence of widespread human impact on the global environment, but different isotopes have registered changes at different times and at different rates.