Document Type


Publication Date


Journal / Book Title

American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, December 2008, San Francisco, CA


Recognizing the tremendous collective impact of humans on the environment in the industrial age, the proposed designation of the current time period as the Anthropocene Epoch has considerable merit. One of the signature activities during this time continues to be the intensive extraction, processing, and combustion of fossil fuels. While fossil fuels themselves are naturally-occurring, they are most often millions of years old and associated with deeply buried strata. They may be found at the surface, for example, as natural oil seeps or coal seam outcrops, but these are relatively rare occurrences. Fossil fuels and their myriad by-products become the source of distinctive organic chemostratigraphic marker compounds for the Anthropocene when they occur out of their original geological context, i.e., as widespread contaminants in sediments and soils. These persistent compounds have high long-term preservation potential, particularly when deposited under low oxygen conditions.

Fossil fuels can occur as environmental contaminants in raw form (e.g., crude petroleum spilled during transport) or as manufactured products (e.g., diesel oil from a leaking storage facility, coal tar from a manufactured gas plant, plastic waste in a landfill, pesticides from petroleum feedstock in agricultural soils). Distinctive assemblages of hydrocarbon marker compounds including acyclic isoprenoids, hopanes, and steranes can be readily detected by gas chromatography/mass spectrometric analysis of surface sediments and soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), along with sulfur-, oxygen-, and nitrogen-containing aromatic compounds, are also characteristic of fossil fuels and are readily detectable as well.

More widespread is the airfall deposition of fossil fuel combustion products from vehicular, domestic and industrial sources. These occur in higher concentrations in large urban centers, but are also detected in remote areas. Parent (nonmethylated) PAHs such as phenanthrene, fluoranthene and pyrene are the most abundant organic marker compounds in these combustion-derived deposits, distinguishable in their types and proportions from the combustion products of natural vegetation fires. The occurrence of specific fossil fuel combustion-derived PAH assemblages serves as a stratigraphic signature for Anthropocene deposits.


- chemostratigraphic marker compounds for the Anthropocene

- fossil fuels and their by-products

- hydrocarbon marker compounds such as PAHs

- plastic waste

Published Citation

Kruge M.A., 2008, Organic chemostratigraphic markers characteristic of the (informally designated) Anthropocene Epoch. American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, December 2008, San Francisco, California. Poster GC11A-0675 for the session "Global Change: The Anthropocene: A New Epoch of Geological Time Caused by Humans"