Has Earth Entered a New Epoch? What Geologists Think

By Robert C Cowen Columnist | The Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2008 | Go to article overview

Has Earth Entered a New Epoch? What Geologists Think


Robert C Cowen Columnist, The Christian Science Monitor


Geologists wonder if they should add a new epoch to the geological time scale. They call it the Anthropocene - the epoch when, for the first time in Earth's history, humans have become a predominant geophysical force. Naming such a new epoch would also recognize that humans now share responsibility with natural forces for the state of our planet's ecological environment. Geologists have been using the term informally for at least half a decade. Now members of the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geological Society of London have laid out the case for giving the term official scientific status. Presenting that case in the February issue of GSA Today magazine, the team notes that "since the start of the industrial revolution, Earth has endured changes sufficient to leave a global stratigraphic signature." It is different from anything found in the entire geological record up to that point. That means the team expects future geologists examining this record will recognize a distinct break with the Holocene ("recent whole") epoch that covers the past 10,000 years. Atmospheric chemist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Crutzen at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz says this presents humanity with an awesome challenge. He has pointed out that what the London team calls the "novel biotic, sedimentary, and geochemical change" now being written into the geological record reflects the emergence of human intelligence and technology as a geophysical force. On his website, he explains this means that "to develop a world-wide accepted strategy leading to sustainability of ecosystems against human stresses will be one of the great future tasks of mankind. …

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