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Anthropocene Epoch

Why is it in the news?

  • A committee of scientists recently rejected a proposal to formally designate the start of the Anthropocene Epoch in geological time.

 

The Earth’s Geologic Time Scale

·       The geologic time scale serves as the official framework for understanding Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history, providing a chronological record of geological events.

·       Geoscientists utilize the Geologic Time Scale (GTS) to measure the history of the planet, dividing it into Eons, Eras, Periods, Epochs, and Ages in descending order of duration.

·       Currently, we inhabit the Meghalayan Age, which is part of the Holocene Epoch. The Holocene began approximately 11,700 years ago, marking the end of the last ice age when ice caps and glaciers started retreating.

·       The Holocene is a subdivision of the Quaternary Period, which is the most recent division of the Cenozoic Era. The Cenozoic Era spans from 66 million years ago to the present.

·       The Cenozoic Era itself is part of the Phanerozoic Eon, which covers the period from 541 million years ago to the present day, encompassing the vast majority of complex life on Earth.

 

 

 

 

About Anthropocene Epoch

  • Coined in 2000 by scientists Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer, the Anthropocene represents a proposed new geological epoch.
  • It aims to denote the significant alterations to the planet’s systems caused by human activities.
  • The term is derived from the Greek words ‘anthropo’ meaning ‘human’ and ‘-cene’ used in geological epochs.

 

The Proposed ‘Human Epoch’

  • The Holocene epoch began approximately 11,700 years ago, following the Last Glacial Period (LGP), characterized by significant glaciation covering up to 25% of the Earth’s land surface.
  • During the LGP, the mean sea level was up to 400 feet lower, and the average temperature dropped to around 8°C.
  • The onset of the Holocene saw a warming of the Earth’s climate, coinciding with the rise and proliferation of human beings.
  • Although Homo sapiens had evolved before the Holocene, all recorded human history falls within this epoch.
  • Human activities during the Holocene have led to notable changes in Earth’s systems, including biodiversity loss, climate change, and alterations to geology, landscapes, ecosystems, and limnology.
  • The recent proposal aimed to establish the Anthropocene as a distinct epoch in geological time, signifying a transformative period for Earth due to human activity.
  • Proponents argue that evidence of human impact is widespread and possibly irreversible, observable from the highest peaks to the deepest ocean trenches, such as Mount Everest and the Mariana Trench.

 

 

The debate over the start of the Anthropocene

  • Proposed start dates for the Anthropocene vary widely, with suggestions ranging from the beginning of the Neolithic Revolution approximately 12,000 to 15,000 years ago.
  • Some proponents advocate for the start of the Anthropocene during the Industrial Revolution, a period marked by the widespread burning of fossil fuels and the significant emission of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.
  • Others argue that the Anthropocene began in the 1950s, a time when humanity’s impact on the planet surged dramatically due to factors such as population growth, technological advancements, and increased industrialization.

 

Controversy Surrounding Recognition

  • The former head of the Anthropocene Working Group and current chair of the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy raised concerns about the vote’s validity, citing ‘serious violations’ of the statutes.
  • The Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) voted against the proposal by a margin of 12 to 4, with two abstentions.
  • The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) committee, responsible for evaluating the proposal, concluded that adding an Anthropocene epoch and terminating the Holocene did not align with the standards used to define geological epochs according to chronostratigraphy.

 

Implications

  • Despite the vote against recognizing the Anthropocene as an official geological epoch, the concept remains highly relevant in scientific and public discourse.
  • The Anthropocene concept signifies a transformative period for Earth driven by human activity, highlighting the profound impacts of human actions on the planet’s systems.
  • It has gained significant traction in popular culture, with widespread recognition and discussion of the term beyond academic circles.
  • Environmental organizations often utilize the concept of the Anthropocene as a warning signal, emphasizing the urgent need for addressing human-induced environmental changes and promoting sustainability.

 

Conclusion

  • The ongoing dialogue about the Anthropocene serves as a reminder of the profound impact of human activities on Earth’s systems and the need for continued scientific inquiry and interdisciplinary collaboration to understand and address these challenges.
  • While the proposal may not have been accepted, the concept of the Anthropocene continues to shape scientific research, policy discussions, and public awareness regarding environmental sustainability and the interconnectedness of human civilization with the natural world.

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