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Earth Enters Anthropocene Epoch, Thanks to Humans

Aug 30, 2016 06:15 AM EDT
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Nuclear tests and plastic pollution aren't what humanity wants to be remembered by, but they're major indicators that influenced geologist's position that Earth has officially entered the Anthropocene epoch.

Scientists from the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA) are responsible for suggesting the change to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town. The Anthropocene should be recorded as starting in the 1950's.

"The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we of course are part," geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the WGA Professor Jan Zalasiewicz said to the Guardian.

"If our recommendation is accepted, the Anthropocene will have started just a little before I was born," he said. "We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realising the scale and permanence of the change."

An epoch is the geologic measurement of time between an age and a period. Previously, we were in the Holocene epoch, which lasted 12,000 years and is marked by the stable climate that followed the last ice age.

Markers for the Antthropocene include increased carbon dioxide emissions, sea level rise, global mass extinction of species and decreased biomass. Scientists are still discussing what will be defined as the beginning signal of the Anthropocene epoch.

Currently, it looks like nuclear testing is the most likely candidate. Other options include plastic pollution, power station soot, concrete or domestication of chickens visible by their bone record. Signals for the beginning of a new epoch must be found in the Earth's geological record.

The enormity of human activity and climate change is brought into stark relief through the recommendation of the Anthropocene. With the closing of the Holocene, the end of a stable climate has officially been marked.

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