Anthropocene II

Geological scientists have decided that the Anthropocene has to be properly defined.

The Anthropocene is, as yet, an unofficial name for the most recent geologic period of Earth’s history, in which human activity has become the most significant factor impacting our climate and ecosystems. It began almost as a joke, a tongue-in-cheek, quasi-scientific way of referencing the damage we were inflicting on our own environment.

Now that evidence has shown that we have altered all the planet’s processes, its atmosphere, its geology, hydrology and biology, the scientific community is making it official: the Holocene, the 12,000 year period of stability that cradled all modern human civilisations, is coming to an end and we will enter the Anthropocene, a less stable and much more frightening place to be.

An international body of scientists (Anthropocene Working Group) are trying to decide how and where to mark the beginning of the new period. The Holocene began when the last ice age ended; the retreating ice left scars on the landscape and strata in the geological record that we use to date its beginning. What indelible marks will we have left for future geologists to use to date the Anthropocene?

There is the globally present layer of plutonium isotopes left by several decades of nuclear experiment in the middle of the last century or the equally ubiquitous layer of soot generated by all that sequestered carbon we pumped out of the ground and burned for a century or more. Then there is the plastic, which, in one form or another, has penetrated into the Earth’s farthest corners, from the bottom of the Marianas Trench to the top of Mount Everest and all the way into our brains. We have drenched the environment in fertilisers and pesticides, and moved 24 times as much material as is moved by natural processes. All of these events are registered in our geological record, safely stored in the sediments of lakes and seas.

The AWG’s mandate expires in 2024. Their work will be published, the markers, references and sites named, and if their recommendations are accepted by the The International Commission on Stratigraphy, the Holocene will end and the Anthropocene will begin.

5 thoughts on “Anthropocene II

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  1. I’m sorry but I don’t think this is an appropriate site to push an idea which has not been officially recognised and accepted. The Southwick Country Park is there for the residents of Southwick and Trowbridge to use and enjoy as defined in the covenant protecting that land and this article has no bearing on that.

    1. I’ve updated the post to include the fact that the ICS (http://quaternary.stratigraphy.org/working-groups/anthropocene/) hasn’t made its final judgement on the matter. I’m sorry if I implied otherwise. I think that discussing the Anthropocene is drawing attention to the damage we are inflicting on our home planet, rather than ‘pushing an idea’.
      The website is the property and work of the Friends of Southwick Country Park (FoSCP) and the subjects we cover are not defined or restricted by the covenant that protects the land, or by Wiltshire Council.

  2. Southwick Country Park: thank you but I think you are missing the point with your last comment

    1. You are right: I have obviously not understood your original comment. I see no requirement for the website to always have bearing on people’s “use and enjoy[ment] as defined in the covenant”. We blog about the doings of volunteers and visitors, about the reserve’s biodiversity and the factors affecting it, and sometimes about wider and more contentious issues.

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