Scientists Propose New Epoch Defined by Humanity's Devastating Impact on the Earth

Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - 11:31AM
Earth
Tuesday, 30 August 2016 - 11:31AM
Scientists Propose New Epoch Defined by Humanity's Devastating Impact on the Earth
The geologic time scale of the Earth is divided into world-changing events that defined each period. Now, scientists are claiming that the defining event of the current period is the devastating changes to the environment due to humanity's influence. As a result, a group of scientists is proposing that the current age of the Earth should be called the "Anthropocene Epoch."

Currently, we're in the midst of the Holocene epoch, which began in 9,700 BCE and is defined by a stable, warm period following the last ice age during the Pleistocene. But many scientists have been saying for years that the world is changing at a rapid pace as a result of human civilization's effects on the Earth—including climate change and species invasions—many of which will be impossible to rectify.

Researchers from University of Leicester said in a statement:

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Changes to the Earth System that characterize the potential Anthropocene Epoch include marked acceleration to rates of erosion and sedimentation, large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements, the inception of significant change to global climate and sea level, and biotic changes such as unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible.
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The scientists at the Working Group for the Anthropocene, who voted to formally designate the epoch in a 35 to 30 vote, are planning to propose the new era to the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS). If they accept it, the Anthropocene Epoch would likely span from 1950 to the present, since the nuclear bomb tests dispersed radioactive elements around the world.

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"The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part," Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester, told The Guardian. "If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born. We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change."
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In order to declare a new geological epoch, the scientists need to demonstrate a marked change in the stratigraphic record, which they can do easily. The radioactive elements in the Earth are one possible signal, but there are also other changes, such as plastic pollution and even fossils of domesticated chicken. The geologists believe that the domesticated chicken will be the primary fossil used by future humans to determine the Anthropocene epoch.

It's difficult to officially designate a new geological era, since the geologic time scale is so vast. However, humans have had such a demonstrable effect on the Earth, the scientists are confident that the SQS will accept their proposal.

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"One criticism of the Anthropocene as geology is that it is very short," said Zalasiewicz. "Our response is that many of the changes are irreversible."
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