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article imageEarth time headed toward Anthropocene period

By Lynn Herrmann     Mar 27, 2010 in Science
Scientists have released a new report suggesting the Earth is entering a “new age of geological time” that will trigger a mass extinction on the planet.
Population growth, pollution, travel, global urbanization, mining, and dependence on fossil fuels has created an alteration of the planet that will impact it for millions of years, some experts believe.
These experts suggest damage to the planet inflicted by mankind will lead to the sixth largest extinction of the planet’s history, wiping out thousands of plant and animal species.
Common Dreams reports a move is underway to replace the current Holocene epoch with a new epoch called Anthropocene, meaning new man. This new epoch would be recognized as the first time period in the planet’s history to be shaped by the actions of a single species. Some scientists have been using the term informally for more than a decade.
A new group of experts has been established to gather all evidence necessary to support recognition of the Anthropocene.
The journal Environmental Science and Technology has recently published The New World of the Anthropocen, a report laying out a proposed theory to validate the new age.
It considers the damages inflicted upon the planet by mankind: rises in greenhouse gases, disappearing ice sheets, growth of megacities, expanded use of fossil fuels, and the impact on rock structure due to mineral extraction, among others.
The report states, in part: “Much of this global change will be to the detriment of humans. Not all of it (Greenland, for example, is currently greening—and booming), but the present and likely future course of environmental change seems set to create substantially more losers, globally, than winners.”
The Anthropocene Working Group, a part of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy has been formed as a formal step and is part of the necessary process for including the Anthropocene period in the Geologic Time Scale.
These two groups are themselves a part of the International Union of Geological Sciences. All three bodies must be convinced there is an overwhelming case to formally recognize and include the Anthropocene in the GTS. They must then agree on a widely accepted formulation.
It is estimated that the process will take three years. Even then, the outcome on whether to formally recognize the Anthropocene is uncertain, as geologists hold the Geological Time Scale in reverence.
The group of scientists include Dr. Paul Crutzen, of the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry and a Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist; Dr. Mark Williams, Dept. of Geology, University of Leicester and the British Geological Survey; Dr. Will Steffen, Australian National University Climate Change Institute; and Dr. Jan Zalasiewicz, Department of Geology, University of Leicester, co-author of the paper.
“It is suggested that we are in the train of producing a catastrophic mass extinction to rival the five previous great losses of species and organisms in Earth's geological past," Zalasiewicz added in the Common Dreams report.
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