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Human Activity Ushers in the Planet's Next Epoch Starting From a Spike in New Minerals

Mar 03, 2017 12:04 PM EST
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Man is changing the planet and the slew of new minerals cropping all around the world is adding more fuel to the argument that there's a new geological epoch in place: the Anthroporcene Epoch.

In a new paper that was published in American Mineralogist, scientists stressed the impact of humans on the geological landscape as evidenced by the 208 mineral species that exist only because of human activity. According to a report from New Scientist, this is nearly four percent of the 5,200 minerals formally recognized by the International Mineralogical Association.

More significantly, most of the 208 mineral species came only in the last few hundred years. The pace of the current spike in human-influenced minerals has already eclipsed the pace of the mineral diversity increase that happened during the Great Oxidation two billion years ago. Most minerals on the planet came about during this period.

"This is a spike of mineral novelty that is so rapid -- most of it in the last 200 years, compared to the 4.5 billion year history of Earth," Robert Hazen, co-author of the research from the Carnegie Institution for Science, told The Guardian.

The paper identified the industrial revolution in the 18th century to be the key in spurring this spike in new minerals, particularly through mining and manufacturing. Three different types of human activities in particularly are of note: the manufacturing of synthetic mineral-like compounds, the distribution of near-surface minerals, and the redistribution of natural minerals all over the world.

Hazen explained that new materials may be forming under the ground, particularly in solid waste dumps where there are old batteries and electronics buried. He noted that TVs, for example, uses different phosphors and magnets that, when hydrated and oxidized, would result to new materials. 

Its these human influences that has spurred on a good number of the scientific community to push for the official designation of the Anthropocene Epoch.

Hazen, for one, believes that the new crystals -- the creation of which would not have been possible without humans -- is an important factor in determining this new geological time period.

He said, "They are going to be for ever on Earth, a distinctive marker layer that makes our time different from any other time in the preceding four and a half billion years."

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