For years, there has been discussion of how to measure and record the geological impact of human activity on the planet. This week, geologists took another big step toward defining exactly where, when and how humans began to leave their mark on Earth.
They say decades ago, human activity became so strong and widespread that it marked the beginning of a distinct new geological time period, sometime between 1950 and 1954: The Anthropocene.
The Anthropocene, which takes its roots from the Greek words for "human" and "new," is characterized by the effects of burning fossil fuels, the distribution of fertilizers and plastic in the environment, and the signatures of nuclear detonations.
These effects are felt worldwide, but scientists chose Crawford Lake in Ontario, Canada, as a symbolic epicenter because the layers of sediment in its 79-foot depths preserve a clear record of these changes.
Francine McCarthy, an Earth sciences professor at Brock University in Canada, says they show how "the effects of humans overwhelm the Earth system."
The Anthropocene Working Group proposes that this new epoch should follow the Holocene, which began as an ice ago concluded more than 11,000 years ago.
Three other groups of geologists will have to approve the proposals, after which the new designation could be formally established in 2024.
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