A clear case for recognizing that the Earth has moved into a new “Anthropocene” epoch has been made by a group of geoscientists owing to humans altering the Earth so extensively.

NASA Earth Image Anthropocene

A move from the Halocene to the “Anthropocene” epoch circa 1945-1964

In a paper published in  the journal Science on Thursday, a group of 24 scientists have stated that the effect humans have had on the Earth and in future geological records dictates that we treat our lives on the planet as lives lived in a new geological epoch that the group is calling the “Anthropocene”

While the study doesn’t officially change the epochal clock by any means, it simply acknowledges the largely negative effects humans have had on the Earth on quite a grand scale.

The study was led by Colin Waters, a geologist with the British Geological Survey with the University of Leicester’s Jan Zalasiewicz playing second fiddle for the group of 24 authors whom are calling themselves the “Anthropocene Working Group.”

The group was organized under the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy which is overseen by the International Commission on Stratigraphy. The latter group would ultimately be the ones that would determine whether or not to officially place us all in a new geological epoch.

Until that group makes a decision, however, we remain in the Holocene era which began just shy of 12,000 years ago and was largely marked by both the warming of sea and its rising levels following a cool period known as the Younger Dryas.

The reasons among others for the group’s belief that we’ve entered a new epoch include the fact that we’ve made a mark on: carbon dioxide levels, the introduction of plastics both on land on in the sea, polar ice cores, and on rocks not yet formed.

“In a way it’s a thought experiment,” said Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard historian and one of the paper’s authors. “We’re imagining what a future geologist will see when he or she looks at the rock record. But it’s not that difficult a thought experiment to do, because so many of these signals are already present.”

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” said lead author and group secretary Waters.

“What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age . This is a big deal.”

What exactly have humans done to change so much so quickly?

Before getting on to the list, let’s look a bit deeper at the group’s reasoning.

“The paper looks at the magnitude of the changes that humanity has made to the planet,” said Waters.

“Have they been sufficient to significantly alter the nature of the sediments now being accumulated at present, and are they distinctive from the existing Holocene Epoch that started at the end of the last ice age? That case has now been made,” Waters told the BBC in an interview following the paper’s publication.

“Within the Working Group – and we have 37 members – I think the majority of them now agree that we are living in an interval we should call the Anthropocene. There’s still some discussion as to whether it should be a formal or informal unit, but we’d like to have a specific definition. And a majority of the group are moving towards the mid-20th Century for the start of this new epoch.”

Specifically what records will we (humans) leave?

  • The concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by roughly 120 parts per million through the burning of fossil fuels since the industrial revolution. While this might not sound like a massive number when taken as 120 ppm, that is an increase of well over 35% with present levels of roughly 400 parts per million and this number is not decreasing.
  • The nuclear weapons testing of the 1950s and 1960sd have added significant amounts of the isotope’s 14C and 293PU through the mid-latitudes of the Earth.
  • The film “The Graduate” was right, the future was plastics and we’ve gone mad with them producing at such a rate that it will leave identifiable fossil records for thousands of years.
  • Fertilizer use as nearly doubled the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen to the soil in just 100 years. That is an impact unseen in the nitrogen cycle in over 2.5 billion years.
  • Fossil fuels and black carbon now mar both sediment and glacial ice and isn’t going anywhere.
  • Extinction rates of flora and fauna could reach 75% in just 200 years and bring the Earth to its sixth mass extinction.

Looks like the group might have this right.

Welcome to the “Anthropocene” epoch.


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