In view of the profound changes caused on the planet by human activities, some researchers have proposed the creation of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene (anthropo = human + cenus = recent).
This would be an era without a well-defined start date (probably mid-20th century), but which distinguishes it from the Holocene by anthropogenic geochemical signatures, in sediments, climate, and other life forms on the planet.
Many international geological research bodies still do not accept the term as official, but a significant number of research groups have already begun to popularize the Anthropocene as a new geological era.
Human actions have a great influence on the planet.
The geological changes carried out by the human being would have given rise to a new geological era called Anthropocene. Illustration: MarcelClemens / Shutterstock.com
Although this appears to be a recent debate, since 1938 Soviet scientists have described human-mediated changes as a geological force. Later, some scientists began to discuss human influence on the earth’s crust after the agricultural revolution (15,000 years ago).
Although this may be the first major milestone in the changes that society has made to ecosystems and landscapes, other scholars prefer to link the Anthropocene with the development of nuclear technology, especially with the atomic tests carried out in the 1950s, since this technology sparked the launch.
Radiation and radioactive particles in different places on the planet.
More specifically, the Anthropocene is the most recent geological era, characterized by declining biodiversity, rapid global climate changes, and homogenization of biogeography and ecosystems caused by human-mediated bioinvasions.
Many biologists and ecologists consider that we are experiencing the sixth mass extinction event in the history of the Earth (which until then had been called the Holocene extinction).
The smog, terrestrial and aquatic caused by activities other than human beings in addition to the alteration of natural environments destroys many habitats.
The emblematic ecosystem used to exemplify the destruction caused by humanity during the Anthropocene is coral reefs, which have undergone various degenerative processes (including bleaching) as an indirect effect of global warming.
It could be said that one of the main geological symptoms that reinforces the existence of the Anthropocene is the increasing concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (CO 2).
In the last million years, whose ages fluctuated between the glacial and interglacial periods, CO 2 concentrations varied between 180 and 280 ppm. The latest measurements made in 2020 point to values above 410 ppm, that is, an unprecedented concentration in the geological history of the planet.
Industrialization and fossil fuel burning processes since the Industrial Revolution clearly caused this dramatic increase, the consequences of which affect all components of the biosphere.
Human changes in the topography of the earth’s crust are noticeable all over the world.
The intensification of erosion processes in places occupied by human buildings, the redirection of rivers and the construction of artificial water bodies, the expansion of road and rail networks that require drainage systems and local planning and mining are some of the activities associated with geomorphological changes linked to the Anthropocene.
Calthemite deposition in the soil (formation derived from concrete and limestone materials found outside cave environments) is a unique Anthropocene process, never recorded on the Earth’s surface before the engineering actions of the human landscape.
Modern society has also left its mark on the stratification of the soil through the presence of trace materials deposited on rocks that contain signs associated with anthropic action.
Some layers of chlorine deposits or the presence of artificial radionuclides are associated with the nuclear weapons test programs of the 1960s, while layers of mercury have been linked to coal plants.
While the debate on the Anthropocene still continues, it is clear that the signal that humans cause on the planet is profound.
It remains to be seen whether the effects of this brand will be positive or negative for the future of sustaining life on our planet.