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The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene

Zalasiewicz, Jan; Waters, Colin N.; Ivar do Sul, Juliana; Corcoran, Patricia L.; Barnosky, Anthony D.; Cearreta, Alejandro; Edgeworth, Matt; Gałuszka, Agnieszka; Jeandel, Catherine; Leinfelder, Reinhold; McNeill, J.R.; Steffen, Will; Summerhayes, Colin; Wagreich, Michael; Williams, Mark; Wolfe, Alexander P.; Yonan, Yasmin. 2016 The geological cycle of plastics and their use as a stratigraphic indicator of the Anthropocene. Anthropocene, 13. 4-17. 10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.002

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Abstract/Summary

The rise of plastics since the mid-20th century, both as a material element of modern life and as a growing environmental pollutant, has been widely described. Their distribution in both the terrestrial and marine realms suggests that they are a key geological indicator of the Anthropocene, as a distinctive stratal component. Most immediately evident in terrestrial deposits, they are clearly becoming widespread in marine sedimentary deposits in both shallow- and deep-water settings. They are abundant and widespread as macroscopic fragments and virtually ubiquitous as microplastic particles; these are dispersed by both physical and biological processes, not least via the food chain and the ‘faecal express’ route from surface to sea floor. Plastics are already widely dispersed in sedimentary deposits, and their amount seems likely to grow several-fold over the next few decades. They will continue to be input into the sedimentary cycle over coming millennia as temporary stores – landfill sites – are eroded. Plastics already enable fine time resolution within Anthropocene deposits via the development of their different types and via the artefacts (‘technofossils’) they are moulded into, and many of these may have long-term preservation potential when buried in strata.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1016/j.ancene.2016.01.002
ISSN: 22133054
NORA Subject Terms: Earth Sciences
Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 01 Feb 2016 11:56 +0 (UTC)
URI: http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/512776

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