The “Age of Man” may be officially added to the geologic timeline of the Earth

According to the Anthropocene Working Group, human activities, since the end of World War II, have altered the planet enough to warrant an update to the geologic history of the Earth.  This panel of geologist, climate scientists, archaeologists and other experts are proposing that human activities, including nuclear bombs, coral reef bleaching, organismal extinctions and distributions, plastic accumulation and more are defining the current stratigraphic record and setting it apart from the previous epoch (the Holocene).  If this proposal is accepted by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the Anthropocene Epoch (meaning “Age of Man”) would begin somewhere in the mid-1940’s and continue indefinitely.

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Human caused climate change is apparent in sediment cores collected in Greenland.  Sediments laid down during the Anthropocene contain distinct combinations of plastics, pesticides and ash from coal burning compared to sediments laid down during the Holocene epoch.

Scientists use the geologic timescale to label and differentiate discrete phases in the Earth’s stratigraphic record.  This naming convention allows scientists to easily identify major events in the Earth’s history such as glaciation, volcanic eruptions, mass extinction, etc. that can be observed within the geologic record.  While the end of one epoch and the beginning of another within the long geologic record may seem esoteric, the implications of naming a new epoch for human activities has the potential to help disseminate understanding about the extent and rate to which our species is altering the Earth.  In a recent paper published in Science (http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6269/aad2622) the member of the working group cite the domestication and distribution of species (such as the chicken) worldwide, emissions from burning fossil fuels altering climate patterns, a legacy of manufacture materials (plastics, aluminum, asphalt, etc.) in distinct layers and fallout from nuclear weapons testing as evidence that we are now in the Anthropocene.

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Plastiglomerates = plastic and rocks melted together (photo from Dr. Patricia Corcoran)

While the idea of the “Age of Man” has increased in popularity, there are many critics that debate the timing of the new epoch or its legitimacy altogether.  Over the next several years the Anthropocene Working Group will be gathering data from around the global to help support and substantiate the claim that we have, in fact, entered a new epoch.

A full article can be found at https://www.sciencenews.org/article/nuclear-blasts-other-human-activity-signal-new-epoch-anthropocene

 

 

 

 

 

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