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Anthropocene: the new geological era?

In today’s world, the Earth’s ecosystem is considerably influenced by human activity. The human impact is so significant that, according to experts, the current geological period of our planet can be described as the ‘Anthropocene’. Aleš Hrdina and Dušan Romportl from the Department of Physical Geography and Geoecology at Charles University took a closer look at global classifications that reflect the intensity of human influence on individual natural areas.

The Anthropocene is a relatively new term that is being used in the context of human activity to indicate a new geological period covering a significant portion of the Holocene. However, humans have been influencing the Earth for several million years, so why is it only being discussed now? The main reason for the introduction of this term is the significant increase in the degree of influence that humans are now having on the Earth’s ecosystem. Indeed, the local and global transformation of the ecosystem is now undoubtedly comparable to, and often more significant than, natural processes. It is, therefore, no longer possible to simplify or ignore human influence.

For this reason, scientists have begun to develop classification systems that reflect, in particular, the intensity of anthropogenic pressure on ecosystem and landscape processes such as land cover change, land-use change, ecosystem services evaluation, and ecosystem degradation, along with biodiversity monitoring.

Comparison of different classification systems using the Democratic Republic of Congo as an example: (a) land system archetypes, (b) anthropogenic biomes, (c) anthromes, (d) land systems. Source: Authors of the original article.

Various classification systems are currently available and each system is suited to a different purpose. Therefore, scientists reviewed and compared seven of the world’s most commonly used classification systems, including anthropogenic biomes, land system archetypes, the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Global ecosystem typology, and others.

The classifications varied in, for example, spatial resolution, the classes chosen for classification, the methods used, or the number of input classification factors. Some classification systems were assessed as suitable for further use on a wide range of scales from global to regional (these were anthropogenic biomes, anthromes, land-use systems, and land systems). Land system archetypes, however, were assessed as particularly suitable at global or continental scales. This type of classification could be considered the most objective as it is based on a greater amount of input data. Others included world ecosystems and global ecosystem typology which are created at a considerably finer spatial resolution and were therefore assessed as particularly useful for conservation management.

In the current era of global climate change and large-scale environmental transformation, understanding the various trends and impacts regarding specific landscape systems is crucial for identifying and implementing appropriate adaptation and mitigation measures. However, despite relatively sophisticated classification systems, there are still some limiting factors. They include the quality (or lack of) input data and generalisation to a global scale, which may subsequently fail to reflect local, rather diverse, reality.

Kateřina Fraindová

Hrdina, A., Romportl, D. (2022): Current global land systems classifications: comparison of methods and outputs. AUC Geographica 57(1), 48–60. https://doi.org/10.14712/23361980.2022.5

Published: Jan 02, 2023 07:10 PM

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