Geologists: Holocene Epoch Ended, 'Anthropocene' Started in 1950s
By Andrea Germanos
A group of scientists said that the scope of human impact on planet Earth is so great that the "Anthropocene" warrants a formal place in the Geological Time Scale.
"Our findings suggest that the Anthropocene should follow on from the Holocene Epoch that has seen 11.7 thousand years of relative environmental stability, since the retreat of the last Ice Age, as we enter a more unstable and rapidly evolving phase of our planet's history," said professor Jan Zalasiewicz from the University of Leicester's School of Geography, Geology, and the Environment, in a statement released Monday.
The scientsts wrote:
"We conclude that human impact has now grown to the point that it has changed the course of Earth history by at least many millennia, in terms of the anticipated long-term climate effects (e.g. postponement of the next glacial maximum: see Ganopolski et al., 2016; Clark et al., 2016), and in terms of the extensive and ongoing transformation of the biota, including a geologically unprecedented phase of human-mediated species invasions, and by species extinctions which are accelerating (Williams et al., 2015, 2016)."
Defining characteristics of the period include:
"marked acceleration of rates of erosion and sedimentation; large-scale chemical perturbations to the cycles of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and other elements; the inception of significant change in global climate and sea level; and biotic changes including unprecedented levels of species invasions across the Earth. Many of these changes are geologically long-lasting, and some are effectively irreversible."
The findings from the international team led by the University of Leicester were presented last year at the International Geological Congress at Cape Town, South Africa, but were just published online in the journal Anthropocene.
Use of the word coined by Nobel Prize-winning scientist Paul Crutzen in 2000 is not new, but so far it's been merely an informal description of the time period when human activity started significantly altering the planet. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG), which comprises experts from a range of fields, has been tackling the issue of whether it should be a formal declaration since 2009.
According to the group, the answer is clear: the Anthropocene is real; it should be formalized; and it should be defined as an epoch (rather than another classification such as a sub-age or era). The group suggested that the new epoch's "golden spike" (or physical reference point) that marks its start is the plutonium fallout from nuclear weapons tests in the 1950s.
Going forward, they wrote, it seems likely that "human impacts will become increasingly significant."
Getting the formal classification is not a done deal, as more analysis is needed, and a stamp of approval from the International Commission of Stratigraphy (ICS) could be years off. Still, said honorary chair of AWG, Colin Waters of the Geology Depart of the University of Leicister, "Whatever decision is ultimately made, the geological reality of the Anthropocene is now clear."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
England's Somerset county can now boast its first beaver dam in more than 400 years.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Alex McInturff, Christine Wilkinson and Wenjing Xu
What is the most common form of human infrastructure in the world? It may well be the fence. Recent estimates suggest that the total length of all fencing around the globe is 10 times greater than the total length of roads. If our planet's fences were stretched end to end, they would likely bridge the distance from Earth to the Sun multiple times.
Early advertisement for barbed wire fencing, 1880-1889. The advent of barbed wire dramatically changed ranching and land use in the American West by ending the open range system. Kansas Historical Society / CC BY-ND
The authors assembled a conservative data set of potential fence lines across the U.S. West. They calculated the nearest distance to any given fence to be less than 31 miles (50 kilometers), with a mean of about 2 miles (3.1 kilometers). McInturff et al,. 2020 / CC BY-ND
- 'This Is Not Like a Fence in a Backyard' — Trump's Border Wall vs ... ›
- New Border Wall Construction Threatens 8 Species With Extinction ... ›
Climate change is making ancient Hopi farming nearly impossible, threatening not just the Tribe's staple food source, but a pillar of its culture and religion, the Arizona Republic reports.
- These Are the Challenges Facing India's Most Sacred River ... ›
- Oil Spill Causes 'Major Disaster' for Ganges River Dolphins ... ›
By Kenny Stancil
An expert panel of top international and environmental lawyers have begun working this month on a legal definition of "ecocide" with the goal of making mass ecological damage an enforceable international crime on par with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.
- Are the Amazon Fires a Crime Against Humanity? - EcoWatch ›
- 'Her Work Will Live On': Climate Movement Mourns Loss of Ecocide ... ›