For some years now, scientists have been making arguments for the Anthropocene epoch: a geological time period defined by human impact on the planet, and which began in the mid-20th Century. Now, geologists in the Anthropocene Working Group, an international collaboration of scientists seeking to quantify the concept, are arguing that there is even more hard evidence to support the existence of the Anthropocene Epoch.
The Anthropocene is “marked by the spread of materials such as aluminum, concrete, plastic, fly ash, and fallout from nuclear testing across the planet, coincident with elevated greenhouse gas emissions and unprecedented tans-global species invasions.” What that means is that, if far in the future geologists were to look at the layers of sediment created during this period, they would find minerals, fossils, and other geological age markers in places that they weren’t before, and in some cases appearing for the first time. That’s generally how geologists divide geological time.
The Holocene Epoch, for example, lasted about 11,700 years, ended by the Anthropocene, and was categorized by stability which allowed humans to rise an develop the civilizations and systems that would lead to our impacting the planet on such a large scale.
Rapid changes in global climate, ecosystems, and the like have been traced to the “Great Acceleration” of he mid-20th Century. Changes taking place post-World War II have rapidly accelerated human impact on the planet, with increasing use of materials like concrete and plastic, nuclear testing, and fossil-fuel use. The end result of these changes are unknowable, but their impact is obvious, and something that may never be undone.
The Anthropocene Working Group will be continuing to study the issue though 2016, dedicating their time to decide whether or not this time unit should be formalized, and how they will define and characterize it. This would be only the second geological epoch in which humans have been able to define such time periods, but hopefully not the last.