A geological epoch is a time period that leaves a distinctive mark in sediments and rocks that can be seen millions of years later. And now, it seems humans have left their mark on the Earth.
Scientists now believe there is overwhelming evidence that human impact has driven Earth into a new geological age—the Anthropocene epoch. In the new study published in Science, researchers pointed to compelling evidence that we’re living in a moment that marks the end of the current Holocene epoch, which started 12,000 years ago, and the dawn of the Anthropocene.
The first is the increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere— by about 120 parts per million since the Industrial Revolution—as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Researchers highlighted the dramatic extinction rate of flora and fauna, which could lead to a sixth mass extinction.
There’s also the ubiquitous spread of a number of new materials such as plastic and concrete to consider. But the “most widespread and globally synchronous anthropogenic signal is the fallout from nuclear weapons testing,” researchers noted in the paper. “Thermonuclear weapons tests generated a clear global signal from 1952 to 1980, the so-called ‘bomb spike’.”
The study is by no means the final say on the matter. The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) has debated the issue for many years, and it’s ultimately up to them to accept the start of the Anthropocene as a geological epoch.
All we can do for now is wait; the commission is expected to make an announcement soon.