Researchers claim human activity forced Earth into a new epoch

Mankind’s impact on the oceans, atmosphere, and wildlife on the planet is so significant that it has caused Earth to enter a new epoch, an international group of scientists has concluded after more than six years of analysis on the matter.

Dr. Colin Waters, principal geologist at the British Geological Survey, and colleagues from the US, UK, France, Poland, Spain, Austria, Australia, Norway, China, and Kenya reported Friday in the journal Science that the Holocene, which began about 12,000 years ago, is now over.

After weighing the evidence, they found that humans had changed Earth’s systems and geologic processes significantly enough to warrant designating the start of a new epoch, the Anthropocene epoch. Their recommendations must still be officially approved by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which is expected to happen later on this year, according to The Guardian.

“We could be looking here at a stepchange from one world to another that justifies being called an epoch,” Dr. Waters told the British newspaper. “What this paper does is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age. This is a big deal.”

So what are scientists basing these claims on?

Dr. Waters and his colleagues examined humanity’s impact on several different ways our existence has changed the world, including the growth of the global population, the increases used of industrial resources, and the burning of fossil fuels.

According to Bloomberg, their research revealed that humans had invented more new kinds of minerals than the Earth had seen since the evolution of oxygen-producing bacteria approximately 2.4 billion years ago. In addition, industry now produces nearly 300 million tons of plastic every year.

Furthermore, their activities have filled lakes, rivers, and other geologic features with new types of chemicals, and coated the planet in organic polymers found in microbeads, plastic, and synthetic fibers. Over half of the Earth’s surface has been transformed into cities, farms, or other uniquely human structures, and the oceans are “increasingly” becoming effected, they wrote.

Wildlife currently occupies just 25 percent of ice-free land, less than half as much as it did 300 years ago, which has helped the rate of species’ extinction soar above long-term averages, the researchers reported, according to The Guardian. Isotopes left behind by nuclear weapons testing and increasing CO2 emissions have also drastically altered the planet’s ecosystems, and experts believe that the sixth mass extinction is “probably already underway.”

Dr. Waters emphasized that the study should not be viewed as a “conclusive statement” that the Anthropocene had indeed arrived, but said that the evidence indicates that mankind is “becoming a major geological force.” Based on the evidence, he and his fellow researchers believe that the new epoch likely started around the mid-20th century, sometime around World War II.

by Chuck Bednar
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