Geologists conclude that we are not living in the Anthropocene for the time being

A committee of scientists has rejected a proposal to introduce a new geological era known as the Anthropocene, defined by humanity’s growing influence on our environment.

For more than a decade, scientists have been discussing whether or not we are living in a new geological era. Geologists divide time into geological eras based on distinct differences we see in rocks around the world.

Currently, as defined by geologists, we are living in the Holocene. This period began about 11,700 years ago, following the last ice age, or the last ice age. The Holocene is defined by human population growth and changing our environment through agriculture.

Over those 11,700(ish) years, our impact on our environment has accelerated, in ways we can see in the geological record. For this reason, geologists have proposed defining a new era – the Anthropocene – from the moment this acceleration began. When it was first proposed in 2002 by atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen, he suggested that it started during the Industrial Revolution.

“Over the past three centuries, humans’ impacts on the global environment have escalated. Because of these anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide, the global climate may deviate significantly from natural behavior for many millennia to come,” Crutzen wrote in his article, published in Nature.

‘It seems appropriate to assign the term ‘Anthropocene’ to the current, in many ways human-dominated, geological epoch, in addition to the Holocene – the warm period of the past 10 to 12 millennia. latter part of the eighteenth century, when analyzes of air trapped in Arctic ice showed the beginnings of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane.

However, since then the Working Group on the Anthropocene has suggested that the new period should begin around 1950. The working group agreed that there had been an acceleration in our impact on the planet, which was reflected in the geological record.

“Phenomena associated with the Anthropocene include: an order of magnitude increase in erosion and sediment transport associated with urbanization and agriculture; clear and abrupt anthropogenic disruptions of the cycles of elements such as carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and various metals along with new chemical substances. connections; environmental changes caused by these disturbances,” the group writes on the Quaternary Stratigraphy website, “including global warming, sea level rise, ocean acidification and the spread of ‘dead zones’ in the oceans; rapid changes in the biosphere, both on land and in the oceans. marine, due to habitat loss, predation, explosion of domestic animal populations and species invasions; and the proliferation and global spread of many new ‘minerals’ and ‘rocks’, including concrete, fly ash and plastic, and the countless ‘technofossils’ produced from these and other materials.”

However, they suggested that the beginning of this period should occur around “the great acceleration” as our pollution of the planet accelerated and nuclear bomb tests left traces of radioactivity in sediments in Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada.

At a recent meeting of the Subcommittee on Quaternary Stratigraphy, the designation of this period as the Anthropocene was rejected by twelve votes to four, with two abstentions. While geologists agree that humans’ impact on the planet has increased, there are a few reasons why the proposal may have been rejected.

“Our last frontier, between the Holocene and the Pleistocene, was that almost a third of this planet was covered in ice,” Joe Desloges, professor of geography and earth sciences at the University of Toronto, told CBC News, adding that people are skeptical on how long the radioactive sediment will persist in the geological record. “The sheer size and scale of that is usually what people are looking for when they define these boundaries.”

The question of when this new era began may have been a sticking point.

“If there is one major reason why geologists have rejected this proposal, it is because its recent dating and shallow depth are too narrow to encompass the deeper evidence of human-induced planetary change,” says Erle C. Ellis, professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, wrote in a piece for The Conversation. “As geologist Bill Ruddiman and others wrote in Science Magazine in 2015, ‘Does it really make sense to define the beginning of a human-dominated era millennia after most of the forests in croplands had been cleared for agriculture?'”

Although it has been dismissed – for now – as a new geological epoch, the term still remains useful. It remains a geological event, with clear traces in the geological record, despite not being assigned its own era.

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