Human Traces: Synthesizing human traces in the stratigraphic record

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The Human Traces working group focuses on the long legacy of pre-Anthropocene human impacts. How do they manifest themselves in different parts of the world, and in different stratigraphic records? Human Traces aims to address the knowledge gap about spatial and temporal variations in early human impacts, with the overarching goal to create a global synthesis of human traces in geologic archives.


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- Contextualize the Anthropocene Epoch in a long-term, global perspective by synthesizing records of human traces in geologic archives.
- Establish a database on Human Traces records, that will evolve with community needs.


Nathalie Dubois (ETH Zürich, Switzerland)
John Boyle (University of Liverpool, UK)
Emilie Saulnier-Talbot (Laval University, Canada)
Julieta Massaferro (CONICET, Argentina)
Guangjie Chen (Yunnan Normal University, China)
Sakonvan 'Moo' Chawchai (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand)
Julius Lejju (Mbarara University of Science & Technology, Uganda)
Christine Omuombo (University of Nairobi, Kenya)
Madeleine Moyle (University of Liverpool, UK)
Dan Penny (University of Sydney, Australia)


Jan 2021
 Dec 2023

img human traces core web

The 126cm-long sediment core ZUR-LAC-14-06 from Lake Zurich (Obersee) in Switzerland reveals the beginning of anoxia in the middle of the 20th century (54cm depth).

The working group Human Traces aims to place contemporary human impacts within a longer temporal context using a meta-analysis of existing Holocene records.

Human activities in the Paleoanthropocene had regionally asynchronous impacts that manifested differently in various parts of the world. Stratigraphic archives, including lake sediments, peat, coastal and marine deposits, but also archeological sites, ice cores and tree-rings, serve as long-term records of natural variability and human-induced changes to the Earth system, allowing us to assess responses to change on various timescales and to link them with either climatic or anthropogenic drivers.

They also serve as a way of defining targets/reference conditions for ecosystem management and conservation by providing a longer-term perspective for recent global changes in the context of the Anthropocene. Quantifying both natural variability and the slow-evolving, low-intensity anthropogenic perturbations are essential if we are to improve predictions of future environmental dynamics and inform strategies for sustainability.


The previous iteration of this WG, Aquatic Transitions, was active from 2014-2018. It published about the challenges of separating natural from anthropic drivers of change in lake sediment signals (Mills et al. 2017) and also on documenting the first human impacts on lake ecosystems around the world (Dubois et al. 2018). Human Traces will build on these to move forward.


Human Traces will address the question of how the Anthropocene manifests itself in natural archives in different parts of the world depending on regional aspects of historical natural and human-induced change. We will first start with the paleolimnological approach, a multidisciplinary science that combines a variety of biological and geochemical information stored in lake sediment archives.

We will assemble a research database, starting with published lake geochemical records and aquatic bioindicators that contains sufficient information to establish temporal trends in nutrient and matter fluxes, building on the efforts of the Aquatic Transitions working group.

Following a research community survey, we will identify parameters considered essential to a flexible community data resource for Human Traces records and establish a data structure and associated tools suitable for flexible and open access to the data. A recurring Summer School will be established to share best practices.

Planned activities

Online meetings will be held on a three-month basis in order to ensure progress in and exchange between the workshops. These online meetings will be used to (1) collect and control the data to populate the database, (2) work on the manuscripts (see expected outputs below), (3) prepare the Summer School.


- Monthly meetings of the Steering Committee to set up the working group and create the research community survey to build the database.
- Community survey and database building (ongoing).
- Second quarter: Workshop to initiate exchanges with the other working groups in the human dimensions of PAGES (LandCover6k, PEOPLE 3000 and DiverseK), centered on the theme: "What is a human impact/trace in a record of broad interest."


- March: Potential meeting of the Steering Committee at the IPA-IAL in Bariloche, Argentina, to prepare for the first workshop.
- May: First in-person Human Traces workshop at the PAGES OSM in Agadir, Morocco. This meeting will also be open to online participants.
- Mid-year: First Summer School.


- July: Second in person Human Traces workshop at the XXI INQUA Congress in Rome, Italy. This meeting will also be open to online participants.
- Mid-year: Second Summer School. The Summer School could also be open to online participation, depending on the global sanitary context. We plan to hold the Summer Schools in three different locations in order to facilitate participation by as many people as possible. Location could be based on the geographical distribution of students and ECR members in the WG.

Training the next generation of scientists in quantitative biogeochemical paleolimnology and other stratigraphic approaches, and fostering an environment where they can take active part in networking and building collaborative science is an important part of this working group's program.

Learn more and participate

Find out more about the group's scientific goals.

Contact a member of the Steering Committee.

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