Our Planet

The World entered a new geological era called “Anthropocene”, scientists say


According to a study titled “The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene” and published on Science Magazine, we, humans,changed the world so much that now we can say the world entered a completely a new geological era, “Anthropocene”.
The term is not new. As early as 1960s, Soviet scientists used the term to refer to the Quaternary, the current and most recent of the three periods of the Cenozoic Era in the geologic time scale of the International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS). The Quaternary follows the Neogene Period and spans from 2.588 ± 0.005 million years ago to the present. The Quaternary Period is divided into two epochs: the Pleistocene (2.588 million years ago to 11.7 thousand years ago, the world’s recent period of repeated glaciations) and the Holocene (11.7 thousand years ago to today, began after the last major ice age).

The Earth in the night from space
The Earth in the night, from the International Space Station (ISS). We, humans, constantly changing our world. But how far did we go? New study provides one of the strongest cases yet that the planet has entered a new geological epoch.

In the 1980s, ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer and atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen claimed that the influence of human behavior on the Earth’s atmosphere in recent centuries as so significant as to constitute a new geological epoch for its lithosphere.

In 2008 a proposal was presented to the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London to make the Anthropocene a formal unit of geological epoch divisions. A large majority of that Stratigraphy Commission decided the proposal had merit and should be examined further. Steps are being taken by independent working groups of scientists from various geological societies to determine whether the Anthropocene will be formally accepted into the Geological Time Scale.

Nevertheless, today, many scientists are using the term “anthropocene”, and the Geological Society of America entitled its 2011 annual meeting: Archean to Anthropocene: The past is the key to the future.

There is no clear agreement between scientists when the Anthropocene started (if it did start). Some scientists propose that, based on atmospheric evidence, it may be considered to start with the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth century). Some claims it began with species exchange between old and new worlds, following the 1492 arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Some put it even earlier, in the beginning of the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP-“Before Present”).

Some put the beginning of the Anthropocene epoch es early as in the beginning of the rise of agriculture and the Neolithic Revolution (around 12,000 years BP-“Before Present”).

In January 2015, 26 of the 38 members of the International Anthropocene Working Group published a paper suggesting that the Trinity test (it was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, conducted by the United States Army on July 16, 1945, as part of the Manhattan Project.) on July 16, 1945, was the starting point of the proposed new epoch. However a significant minority supports one of several alternative dates. In March 2015, a paper published in Nature suggested either 1610 or 1964 could be the beginning of Anthropocene. Other scholars point to the diachronous character of the physical strata of the Anthropocene, arguing that onset and impact are spread out over time, not reducible to a single instant or date of start.

The signatures of Anthropocene

According to the study cited in the beginning of the article, the main signatures defining the new epoch are:

Opposing Views

Some scientists, such as Whitney Autin, a stratigrapher (scientist who study rocks) at the SUNY College of Brockport criticize the idea. In a paper published in 2012 (with John M. Holbrook from the Texas University), suggests Anthropocene is more about pop culture than pure science.

Autin and Holbrook wrote:

“If the prescribed conditions are met (note: please see the original paper for the prescribed conditions), then Anthropocene might be a useful time stratigraphic term. In essence, it describes the disruptions driven by human activities. However, elevating terms that may become iconic in pop culture is not in itself sufficient evidence to amend formal stratigraphic practice. Science and society have much to gain from a clear understanding of how humans drive Earth-system processes instead of conducting an esoteric debate about stratigraphic nomenclature. Let the Anthropocene retain its rightful place as a focal point in the culture wars over the recognition and interpretation of environmental process.”

The Anthropocene Working Group plans to meet in mid-2016 to submit evidence and decide whether the Anthropocene is a true geologic epoch. The proposal is set to be reviewed by the International Commission on Stratigraphy later in 2016. Should it be approved there, the proposal to adopt the term will have to be ratified by the International Union of Geological Sciences before its formal adoption as part of the geologic time scale.