Humans have pushed Earth into new geological epoch

Scientists have found overwhelming evidence for a new geological epoch which marks the impact of human activity on planet Earth: the Anthropocene Their findings are published in the latest issue of Science.

The study, which is co-authored by 24 members of the Anthropocene Working Group, argues that the Anthropocene started in the mid-20th century and is marked by the spread of materials such as aluminium, concrete, plastic, fly ash and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet. These also coincide with increased greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented trans-global species invasions, explains the University of Leicester, which contributed to the study.

The Anthropocene was preceded by the Holocene Epoch of the last 11,700 years – a stable period that allowed human civilisation to develop through land domestication, increased food production, built urban settlements and proficiency in developing water, mineral and energy resources.

The Anthropocene, in contrast, is “a time of rapid environmental change brought on by the impact of a surge in human population and increased consumption during the ‘Great Acceleration’ of the mid-20th century.” The scientists say they have enough evidence from sediments and ice to incontrovertibly demonstrate that humans have changed the Earth system, though justifying recognition of the Anthropocene Epoch.

“Humans have long affected the environment, but recently there has been a rapid global spread of novel materials including aluminium, concrete and plastics, which are leaving their mark in sediments,” says co-author Dr. Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey.

“All of this shows that there is an underlying reality to the Anthropocene concept,” adds Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester, a co-author and working group Chair.


Image credit: Wilfredo Rodríguez, flickr/Creative Commons

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