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EarthWord: Anthropogenic

September 1, 2015
Scientists use the word “anthropogenic” in referring to environmental change caused or influenced by people, either directly or indirectly.

EarthWords is an on-going series in which we shed some light on the complicated, often difficult-to-pronounce language of science. Think of us as your terminology tour-guides, and meet us back here every week for a new word!

Image: Snakehead Fish
An invasive snakehead fish. Native to China and Korea, human actions brought them to North America, where they’re now found in Maryland, Virginia, Arkansas, California, and Florida. Image credit: Buck Albert, USGS


The EarthWord: Anthropogenic


  • Scientists use the word “anthropogenic” in referring to environmental change caused or influenced by people, either directly or indirectly.


  • Anthropo– comes from Greek, and means having to do with humanity, and –genic comes from Greek and refers to creation.

Use/Significance in the Earth Science Community:

  • Public debate focuses on whether environmental changes are natural or from human activity. Often, both causes are at work, or one cannot be ruled out. Scientists gather evidence and debate that evidence to derive what is likely.


  • Invasive Species:
    • Evidence suggests that non-native Burmese pythons became established in South Florida because of anthropogenic reasons; that is, pet owners released these snakes into the wild, either accidentally or deliberately. The USGS discovered that invasive Burmese Pythons, have a built-in navigation system to navigate their way home. Read more here!
  • Climate Change:
    • Climate change has natural and anthropogenic components. While geologic history is replete with evidence of climate change long before people existed, scientists cannot account for recent changes using nature alone.  The USGS Climate & Land Use Change R&D Program studies both anthropogenic and natural climate variability and is focused on distinguishing the human fingerprint on climate change from natural climate variability.

Next EarthWord: A monster from Harry Potter? Close, but turning to stone is involved!

Hungry for some science, but you don’t have time for a full-course research plate? Then check out USGS Science Snippets, our snack-sized science series that focuses on the fun, weird, and fascinating stories of USGS science.


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