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Planet Earth Has Entered A New Epoch: Anthropocene

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For the first time in 11,500 years, scientists have agreed that the planet Earth had crossed over into a new geological epoch.

The quick rise of industrialization in the last century hastened the spread and use of new metals, concrete, and plastics, and brought on drastic climate change — all of which have pushed the world into the Anthropocene epoch.

Human activity has left an impact on the Earth since before what is now the Holocene epoch, which started around 9700 B.C. But scientists argue that the recent upheavals to natural systems and processes are significant enough to acknowledge that there is a new geological time unit in place headlined by humankind’s domination, The Telegraph reports.

The Working Group on Anthropocene (AWG) is set to meet in Cape Town this week. Members are proposing that the new epoch should be marked in 1950. Of the 35 members, 20 voted in a majority sweep to recognize the new time period as an epoch, not an age of lower rank or of higher rank like Jurassic or Cretaceous.

Now, the search is on for what geologists call a “golden spike,” or an important physical reference point that has a date and can be used as the starting point for the Anthropocene epoch. For the current Holocene epoch, a riverbed in Scotland is the marker.

Professor Jan Zalasiewicz of the AWG and a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester, says carbon and nitrogen levels in the atmosphere have remained comparatively stable before the 20th Century’s “great acceleration.”

“Human action has certainly left traces on the earth for thousands of years, if you know where to look,” Zalasiewicz says.

The difference between that and what has happened in the last century or so is that the impact is global and taking place at pretty much the same time across the whole Earth.

Paul Crutzen, Nobel-prize winning chemist, and his colleague Eugene Stoermer first brought up the idea of an Anthropocene epoch in 2000.

The AWG vote is an official, scientific endorsement of the epoch and adds weight to consideration for its inclusion in the International Chronostratigraphic Chart.

Professor Colin Waters, a principal geologist at the British Geological Survey and secretary of the WGA says, “The concept of the Anthropocene manages to pull all these ideas of environmental change together.”

The AWG notes that changes to the Earth’s system which characterize the possible Anthropocene epoch include high levels of nitrogen and phosphates in soils, the presence of plastic and aluminum particles, and massive disruptions to carbon and nitrogen cycles.

The process for formal recognition of this epoch is likely to take at least three years. Zalasiewicz says that once the “golden spike” is confirmed, a proposal will be submitted to several commissions, leading to the Executive Committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences, which will then determine if the Earth can truly say that it has reached a new epoch.

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