The age of Aquarius? Nope, it's the Anthropocene epoch

Apr 14, 2010
The geologic time scale might be amended in the future to include a new period called the "Anthropocene epoch" that is marked by stunning population growth and unprecedented changes in human activity. Credit: US Geological Survey

In just two centuries, humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes to our world that we actually might be ushering in a new geological time period that could alter the planet for millions of years, according to a group of prominent scientists that includes a Nobel Laureate. They say the dawning of this new epoch could lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in the Earth's history. Their commentary appears in ACS' bi-weekly journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Jan Zalasiewicz, Mark Williams, Will Steffen, and Paul Crutzen (the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist) reflect that recent human activity, including stunning population growth, sprawling megacities and increased use of fossil fuels, have changed the planet to such an extent that we are entering what they call the Anthropocene (New Human) epoch.

The notion of such drastic human influence was controversial for many years. However, as more potential consequences of human activity — such as global climate change and sharp increases in plant and animal extinction — have emerged. The Anthropocene (a term proposed by Crutzen a decade ago) has gained support. Currently, the worldwide geological community is considering whether Anthropocene should join Jurassic, Cambrian and other more familiar units on the Geological Time Scale.

Zalasiewicz, Crutzen and colleagues note that getting that formal designation could be contentious. But they conclude, "However these debates will unfold, the Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet."

Explore further: US top court to review power plant emissions rules

More information: "The New World of the Anthropocene", Environmental Science & Technology.

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User comments : 7

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TegiriNenashi
5 / 5 (1) Apr 14, 2010
Yes, we are currently in Googolocene epoch of Computerian period.
tlen
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 14, 2010
it's called humanity --get used to it. the earth will survive and thrive long after us humans have worn ourselves out.
what's wrong(?) the UN isn't aborting 'third worlders' fast enough for the scientists? frankly, after giving the award to al gore, obama, arafat, Egaz Moniz, etc... it's obvious the nobel is not the esteemed prize elitists would like us all to believe. getting a nobel simply means you run in all the right world government approved circles.
TegiriNenashi
1 / 5 (2) Apr 14, 2010
You have to distinguish genuine Nobel price and its peace derivative. Criticizing the former one makes you look like a fool.

As for "the earth will survive and thrive long after us humans have worn ourselves out" this is really a narrow perspective. Look at the scope of our planet on the galaxy scope, then move on to the universe. I can't see how anybody familiar with the cosmic scale can pretend that earth fate matter. What matter is the civilization exponentially growing ability to create artifacts that would soon eclipse anything of biologic origin. It is exponential progress that we embarked on that renders exaggerated environmental worries silly.
PinkElephant
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 14, 2010
What matter is the civilization exponentially growing ability to create artifacts that would soon eclipse anything of biologic origin. It is exponential progress that we embarked on that renders exaggerated environmental worries silly.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call terminal hubris. Something Wiley E. Coyote is intimately familiar with: he wakes up from it every time he's spinning his legs in thin air, just past the edge of the cliff.
Ronan
not rated yet Apr 15, 2010
Hm. Why is this news, exactly? I mean, the concept of the Anthropocene (Personally, I don't see what's wrong with the Holocene, but that's beside the point) has been bouncing around for a while now, and this new commentary doesn't seem to add much; it's essentially just a summary. Of course, I suppose there's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but...seems a bit odd to devote a physorg article to it.
Billybaroo
3 / 5 (2) Apr 15, 2010
Give me a break. The Anthropocene would be less than the size of a cell in the hair on a flea's butt in terms of geologic time. The earth has undergone catastrophic changes over it's history that make man's impact look like...see above!
jsa09
not rated yet Apr 19, 2010
@Billybaroo so far.

An age or an extinction event may be several centuries or thousands of years. Think into the future for one thousand or even two thousand years.

Are any mega-fauna going to survive that period?
Are any fauna going to survive at all?
With genetic engineering only just starting and population pressures growing all the time, and with groups against the harvesting of animals growing in popularity all the time, we may wonder if any fauna will survive the next thousand years at all.

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