The cumulative impact of human activity on the Earth may have pushed the planet into a “stratigraphically” distinct geological era, suggests a group of international scientists.
A new study published in Science on Friday supports the argument Earth has entered a new epoch — dubbed Anthropocene — after reviewing “climatic, biological, and geochemical signatures of human activity in sediments and ice cores.”
The paper cites increased deposits of aluminum, plastics and concrete can now be seen in sedimentary layers of rock around the world. Authors say that area of the report makes the strongest case that human activity is responsible for a new epoch.
Alexander Wolfe, an adjunct professor of paleobiology at the University of Alberta, is one of the paper’s 24 co-authors. He contributed to study with pollution data collected from remote Arctic and alpine lakes.
“Stability is no longer a given.”
Aerial view of Ginza, Tokyo at night. (Photo: Michael H/Getty Images)
Wolfe told The Huffington Post Canada the study shows how humans can “sufficiently” alter the physics, chemistry, and biology of the planet — but scientists aren’t quick to label the change as something good or bad.
“We are simply signalling that the Earth has entered a fundamentally new mode of operation, and this can be recognized in the geological record,” Wolfe said. He added changes observed in the Anthropocene are evolving more “rapidly” than in two prior epochs, Holocene and Pleistocene.
“Stability is no longer a given,” he said, referring to the rapidly changing environment.
“Living beings certainly do have the potential to modify the planet in fundamental ways.”
When asked what significance the study has in supporting the argument of a new geological era, the Edmonton scientist said the paper “resoundingly” proves that humans really can change the planet.
“Living beings certainly do have the potential to modify the planet in fundamental ways,” Wolfe said. “This time it just happens to be a bipedal hairless ape with a large cranium that is responsible — all 7.3 billion of them!”
In a 200-acre-plus dump five kilometers north of Port-au-Prince, hundreds of Haitian men, women and children scavenge day and night through the burning wasteland in January 2015. (Photo: Giles Clarke/Getty Images)
Wolfe works in the 36-member Anthropocene Working Group — 24 of whom co-authored the Science paper.
Dr. Colin Waters, another co-author and principal geologist at the British Geological Survey, said the study is a “big deal” in the canon of Anthropocene research.
“That this paper does, is to say the changes are as big as those that happened at the end of the last ice age,” he told The Guardian.
While the study doesn’t firmly conclude the Earth has officially entered a new epoch, it presents a strong case that an accelerated population and technological growth, buckled with pollution and industrialized farming and fishing, have ‘permanently reconfiguring Earth’s biological trajectory.”
The research will be reviewed by a geological body responsible for formally declaring divisions of time later this year.
If the panel approves the paper's evidence, it will declare the Holocene epoch — which stretches back to the last ice age nearly 12,000 years ago — as officially over.
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