It may be one of the hardest things we will ever have to get our heads around, but it looks as though in our human lifetime we have entered a new epoch – a new geological age. Our actions over the last 50-60 years has changed the planet more than the last epoch which was 11.7 thousand years ago. As we said, it’s probably a tough thing to get your head around. Let’s take a look at what the experts are saying and what it could potentially mean for us.
The Anthropocene Epoch
While nothing has been set in stone yet (excuse the pun), experts from the Anthropocene Working Team are in very little doubt that we have entered a new epoch or geological age. The panel of 37 members have been working on gathering information, research and samples in order to determine whether the planet truly has changed. In a report published by Science Magazine the team explain that while this is no final statement on the subject, they do believe that the impact humans have had on earth is significant enough for a new classification to be made. Enter the Anthropocene Epoch.
The researchers have also been looking for evidence as to when this new geological era could have begun. Many of the team agree that the real changes started happening in the mid-20th century, around the 1950s. There are several key factors as to why this could be the start date, including the beginning of the ‘Great Acceleration’ which is when both human population numbers and consumption rates began to shoot up. The mid-20th century also marks a time when modern materials, such as plastic and concrete, became more widespread. Finally, the testing of thermonuclear weapon will also have made an impact that is likely to be found in sediments millions of years from now.
What Does It All Mean?
The geological time scale is used by scientists around the globe, to learn more about the earth’s history. It’s how we know the planet is around 4.5 billion years old! Within this timescale there are eras, periods, and epochs. The oldest is the Precambrian and is one of the longest spans in the whole of the earth’s history; from when the planet was formed through to a mass of hard-shelled creatures on the surface, around 541 million years ago. We are currently in the Cenozoic era, the Quaternary period, and the Holocene epoch. The Holocene is thought to have begun over 11.7 thousand years ago and continued to the present. So, we’ve been in this epoch for quite some time! However, with the recent findings it could be that we see a new geological age in our lifetimes; something which is pretty hard to comprehend. It shows that the impact we’ve had on the planet as humans is starting to show. And perhaps not always in the best of lights.
We’re still a little way off from discovering whether the mid-20th century is truly when our planet entered a new geological age. Particularly as samples will have to be taken from around the world. However, we do know that this planet is changing because of modern advancements and in some cases carelessness. All that’s left to do now is sit and wait, to see whether we’ve left future generations with a layer of rock that’s filled with coca cola cans and radioactive residue… Aka the Anthropocene Epoch.