Hard evidence for a human-driven Earth
The evidence for a new geological epoch which marks the impact of human activity on the Earth is now overwhelming, according to a recent paper by an international group of geoscientists.
The Anthropocene, which is argued to start in the mid-20th Century, is marked by the spread of materials such as aluminium, concrete, plastic, fly ash and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet, coincident with elevated greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented trans-global species invasions.
The study, co-authored by 24 members of the Anthropocene Working Group - including Professors Jan Zalasiewicz and Mark Williams from the Department of Geology and Dr Matt Edgeworth from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History - shows that humans have changed the Earth system sufficiently to produce a range of signals in sediments and ice, and these are sufficiently distinctive to justify recognition of an Anthropocene Epoch in the Geological Time Scale.
The Holocene Epoch has been a time during which human societies advanced by gradually domesticating the land to increase food production, built urban settlements and became proficient at developing the water, mineral and energy resources of the planet. The proposed Anthropocene Epoch, however, is marked as a time of rapid environmental change brought on by the impact of a surge in human population and increased consumption during the ‘Great Acceleration’ of the mid-20th century.
In 2016 the Anthropocene Working Group will gather more evidence on the Anthropocene, which will help inform recommendations on whether this new time unit should be formalised and, if so, how it might be defined and characterized.