Posted by: twotrees | October 29, 2014

Epoch, man

Many students have learned about geologic history and the terms used to describe certain timelines;  epoch, which is a subdivision of a period, which is a division of an era, etc…  In most instances, eras are very, very long periods of time:

Era[2] Beginning (millions of years BP) End (millions of years BP)
Cenozoic 65 0
Mesozoic 250 65
Paleozoic 542 250

When we think of these references, we usually think of the age of dinosaurs, the dawn of man, and so forth.  Now comes something new:  The potential for a new epoch to be classified:  the age of Anthropocene – the age of man.

The current epoch, known as Hologene, started about 12,000 years ago at the end of the last ice age.  Since that time, human influence on the planet has been slowly increasing, with the last 300 years making the greatest impact.  With the Industrial Revolution, man brought factories belching out pollution.  with the growth of our population to 7 billion + man’s influence on  the plant is taking on greater significance.  No one can deny that animals, people and the planet are all being affected.

In her recent book The Sixth Extinction, Elizabeth Kolbert speaks to the facts about mass extinctions through  earth’s history.  Among them are the asteroid impact near Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula that destroyed the dinosaurs.  She also mentions that after much study and discussion, the idea of a new epoch has merit.  Humanity has changed the planet in these significant ways:

– Humans have changed between a third and half of the land surface of the planet.

– Most of the planet’s major rivers have been damned.

– Fertilizer manufacturers produce more nitrogen than is fixed naturally by Earth’s ecosystems.

– Fisheries remove more than a third of the primary production fo the oceans’ coastal waters.

– Humans use more than 50% of the world’s readily accessible fresh water runoff.

We are changing the planet in such a way that many thousands of years from now, a geologic chapter will be evident in the sediments and stone that is produced from our current age.  For that reason and more, the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the group responsible for maintaining the official timetable of earth’s history, will be considering this topic at t  heir 2016 meeting.  At no other time in the past billion years has an Epoche occured as quickly as this new one has…

“There is more to life than simply increasing its speed.”  Mahatma Gandhi

 

 

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