Humans have made so many changes over the Earth since the last century, that scientists have proposed that a new geological epoch called the Anthropocene, marked by atomic bomb tests and industrialization, should be added to records. According to scientists that published the study on Thursday in the Journal Science, they are imagining what geologists of the future will think when they analyze the changes of the rocks.
According to current science, humans are living right now in the Holocene, an epoch that began 11,700 years ago, which started at the end of the last of the Ice Age, when sea levels started to rose. By the 21th century, habitat destruction and contamination are among the most relevant factors that have changed the Earth. It is calculated that within the next 25 years, 20 percent of all plant and animal species will disappear, as the University of California Museum of Paleontology reported.
“Quite unlike other subdivisions of geological time, the implication of formalizing the Anthropocene reach well beyond the geological community. Not only would this represent the first instance of a new epoch having been witnessed firsthand by advanced human societies, it would be one stemming from the consequences of their own doing,” said authors from the study.
Naomi Oreskes, a historian of science at Harvard, who was one of the study authors, explained that researchers are trying to visualize what geologists will see in the future when they analyze rocks record. She added that it wasn’t a difficult task since obvious signs of relevant changes on Earth can be seen, such as the presence of plutonium on ice.
Even when it seems a new epoch should be marked, the team of researchers stressed that more investigation needs to be done, because it would define how generations of the future will think about us. The term Anthropocene was first proposed by Paul Crutzen, a Nobel Prize-winner, who said that a new era defined by a huge change over the environment and technological advances caused and developed by humans should be remarked.
By October 1999, it was calculated that the world’s population reached 6 billion, according to the United Nations. However, by 1900, just 1.65 billion people inhabited the Earth, and it is known that the biggest growth started around 1950. In that same period of time, humans have developed nuclear weapons and have managed to increase the Earth’s temperature, as a consequence, layers of sediments, that contain aluminum, concrete, and black carbon, are being changed.
Researchers reported to Reuters that we are becoming a geological agent in ourselves. It is evidenced how humans have modified river systems, and how carbon dioxide levels have grown at high speeds. However, one of the most notable evidence of change, that will be identified in sediments even in the next 100,000 years, is the presence of plutonium 239 which was expanded with the testings of thermonuclear weapons.
“Current trends of habitat loss and overexploitation, if maintained, would push Earth into the sixth mass extinction event (with ~75% of species extinct) in the next few centuries, a process that is probably already underway,” researchers wrote.
Source: Science Magazine