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article imageScientists seek to declare new human-induced Anthropocene epoch

By Karen Graham     Aug 29, 2016 in Science
Cape Town - A group of 35 experts presented a recommendation to the International Geological Congress in Cape Town, South Africa on Monday, asking that the Holocene epoch be cut short and a "new age of man" be ushered it.
Earth's geological timeline goes back 540 million years and gives us a picture, so to speak, of the history of our planet that we can read in the sediments found in rock layers, or strata. The timeline is broken down into ages, or epochs, most of them lasting millions of years.
The current epoch called the Holocene, meaning "entirely recent," started 11,500 to 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age and the development and spread of human civilization. It took millions upon millions of years to reach that moment when the Holocene began. But now, scientists think the Holocene epoch is over and it's time we realize we have been instrumental in giving birth to a new one.
Birth of the "new age of man" or The Golden Spike
If the recommendations of the group of experts are approved, a process that could take two or more years, the newly defined Golden Spike era, called Anthropocene — from anthropo, for “man,” and cene, for “new" will become official.
Atmospheric scientist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen is credited with making Anthropocene an environmental "buzzword" in 2000. And the reasoning behind changing the Holocene epoch to Anthropocene has also gained more and more acceptance by scientists. The new epoch has appeared in over 200 peer-reviewed studies and publisher Elsevier launched a new academic journal called Anthropocene.
Geologists use the rock strata to investigate the Earth s past.
Geologists use the rock strata to investigate the Earth's past.
Prince George Community College
But many stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) don't agree with changing the name and argue that there is no clear-cut evidence to show we are in a new era. “When you start naming geologic time terms, you need to define what exactly the boundary is, where it appears in the rock strata,” says Whitney Autin, a stratigrapher at the SUNY College of Brockport, NY.
And he brings up the crucial question behind heralding in a new age. Exactly when did humans begin leaving their mark on the planet? Autin argues that yes, humans left their mark at the start of the atomic age because we can find the traces of radiation left in the soil. But we can also find the remnants of agriculture's beginnings in Europe dating back to 900 AD. So what defines the start of a new Epoch?
Burial chamber of Sennedjem  Scene: Plowing farmer.
Circa 1200 BCE
Did the Anthropocene start with t...
Burial chamber of Sennedjem, Scene: Plowing farmer. Circa 1200 BCE Did the Anthropocene start with the advent of agriculture?
The Yorck Project
Humanity's incredible and profound impact on the Earth
We can't really define humanity's impact on the Earth just by looking at rocks, lake sediments, ice cores, or other such formations. Our lasting legacy is much more profound and some people might even say, horrific. The Holocene gave us a stable climate and pristine oceans and waterways. The Earth was home to a vast and diverse ecosystem.
In a geologically short period of time, we have had a significant influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that will leave a long-term mark on the Earth's strata for millions of years.
China's Daqing has produced more than two billion tonnes of oil since it started flowing almost...
China's Daqing has produced more than two billion tonnes of oil since it started flowing almost 60 years ago
Nicolas Asfouri, AFP
We have bored 50 million kilometers (31 million miles) of holes in the Earth searching for oil. We have altered the landscape by removing mountain tops in our search for coal. Our oceans are a dumping ground for plastic bags and bottles, about 8.0 million metric tons every year, to be exact.
Because of our fascination with weapons and making bigger bombs than our neighbors, we have dispersed man-made radionuclides globally. Our nuclear testing and "accidents" have left islands and large areas of land uninhabitable. We have burned down rainforests in our quest to make a profit on palm oils, and in so doing, we have killing layers of smoke and pollutants that have sickened and often killed animals and people across the globe.
Seen from Bikini Island  the Baker explosion as the water begins to shower down. (Record Group 372-G...
Seen from Bikini Island, the Baker explosion as the water begins to shower down. (Record Group 372-G, Box-5, Folder-18 "Detonation").
NARA still picture unit
But perhaps most striking is the mass extinction of animal and plant species under our watch, either through outright slaughter or through our impact on ecosystems. We have successfully, though inadvertently, created a change in the Earth's climate with our use of fossil fuels, sending carbon dioxide levels soaring and literally changing the chemical makeup of the atmosphere. And we have changed the chemical composition of the soil by adding artificial fertilizers for better crop production.
“The significance of the Anthropocene is that it sets a different trajectory for the Earth system, of which we, of course, are a part,” said Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, a geologist at the University of Leicester and chair of the Working Group on the Anthropocene (WGA). “We have lived most of our lives in something called the Anthropocene and are just realizing the scale and permanence of the change.”
Human impact is everywhere you look today. And it is permanent. Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former president of the Royal Society says the dawn of the Anthropocene is a significant moment for humanity. “The darkest prognosis for the next millennium is that bio, cyber or environmental catastrophes could foreclose humanity’s immense potential, leaving a depleted biosphere,” he said.
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