Welcome to the Anthropocene: Human impacts on the West Coast of South Africa

Prof John Sternbergh Compton

  • Duration: 60 min
  • Language: English
  • Ages: All Ages
  • Date: May 11, 2021 17:00
  • Recorded: Live session with recording available afterwards
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Whether you live here or just happen to be passing through, the many facets of the West Coast leave an imprint upon each of us, giving us a ‘sense of place’ – the sum of all that we take in from our surroundings. Through a series of illustrated examples that touch upon various aspects of its natural history, this talk explores how the many habitats and life forms have evolved through time on the West Coast and how we humans are having an increasingly large impact. Our human ‘footprint’ has become so large as to lead many to propose that we now live in the Anthropocene (human epoch).


Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences and the Evolutionary Studies Institute of the University of Witwatersrand


John Compton was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. He received his undergraduate degree in Chemistry/Earth Sciences from the University of California at San Diego (UCSD) in 1981 and his PhD in Earth Sciences from Harvard University in 1986. He taught at the School of Marine Science, University of South Florida, for 10 years before moving to the Department of Geological Sciences, University of Cape Town (UCT), in 1996. At UCT he taught a first-year introductory course on Earth and environmental sciences as well as a course on marine geology and geochemistry.

In collaboration with his students and colleagues he has published over 60 papers spanning a wide range of research topics that include the origin of phosphorus-rich deposits of the Benguela Upwelling System; wind-blown dust as a source of nutrients to the highly diverse fynbos plant ecosystem; and topics integrating geology and human evolution (geoarchaeology). In 2016 he established Earthspun Books, publisher of his popular guide The Rocks &; Mountains of Cape Town, Human Origins: How diet, climate and landscape shaped us and, most recently, West Coast: A Natural History. He is now emeritus and continues to work on various research projects, as well as publishing natural history books. Visit www.johnscompton.com to learn more about his books and research. You will also find links to YouTube videos on the geology of the Cape Town area.