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posted by cmn32480 on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:47AM   Printer-friendly
from the natural-climate-change dept.

11,700 years ago, the Earth suffered a catastrophic climate change. As the ice age ended, sea levels rose by 120 meters, the days grew warmer, and many kinds of plant and animal life died out. But one animal began to thrive more than ever before. Homo sapiens, which had already spread to every continent except Antarctica, came up with a new survival strategy. Today, we call it farming.

Thanks in part to that innovation, humans survived to witness the dramatic transition from the Pleistocene epoch to the Holocene—it was the first such geological transition in almost 2 million years. But now geologists say we're witnessing another transition, as we move from the Holocene into an epoch called the Anthropocene. Here's what that means.

[Continues...]

[...] Getting a new geological time increment added to the official record is a long, involved process. Geologist Jan Zalasiewicz, who contributed to the Science paper, told me back in 2013 that research papers are just the beginning. "It has to be considered by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy and then by the International Commission on Stratigraphy itself," he said. "And then, if it gets through that, it has to be ratified by the International Union on Geological Sciences." Currently, they're about halfway through the process. This year, the International Commission on Stratigraphy is set to hear a proposal about adding the Anthropocene to geological history.

To build a case among their fellow scientists, Waters, Zalasiewicz, and their colleagues approached the Anthropocene the way they would any other epoch in geological history. They searched the Earth for signs of dramatic atmospheric changes, new kinds of rock formations, changes in plant and animal life, and perturbations in long-term chemical reactions like the carbon and nitrogen cycles. What they discovered were changes to the Earth's surface that were remarkable.

In some cases, the changes rivaled transformations caused by the rise of atmospheric oxygen 2.5 billion years ago, or the meteorite impact that killed most dinosaur species 65 million years ago. Most of these changes could be traced back to the 1950s, also known as the Great Acceleration, when the booming economy led to an explosion in city building, scientific innovation, and human population growth. In a sense, the Great Acceleration is to the Anthropocene what the end of the ice age was to the Holocene.


Original Submission

Related Stories

UNESCO Urges Efforts to Save the Great Barrier Reef 10 comments

Two years after a 35-year plan to save Australia's Great Barrier Reef was released, the country is being told that it is failing to meet the targets:

The United Nations cultural heritage body UNESCO urged Australia on Saturday to accelerate efforts to save the Great Barrier Reef, saying long term targets to improve its health were unlikely to be met.

Progress towards achieving water quality targets has been slow, and Australia was at risk of falling short of its 2050 goals, UNESCO warned in a draft assessment of world heritage sites prepared ahead of a meeting in Krakow, Poland, in July.

"The World Heritage Centre and IUCN consider that the implementation of the Plan will need to accelerate to ensure that the intermediate and long-term targets of 2050 LTSP (Long-Term Sustainability Plan) are being met, in particular regarding water quality," the report said.

Australia's Reef 2050 Plan was released in 2015 and is a key part of the government's bid to prevent the World Heritage Site being placed on the United Nation's "in danger" list.

Also at The Guardian.

Meanwhile, experts have called for a new approach to coral reef conservation in the "Anthropocene":

In a paper [DOI: 10.1038/nature22901] [DX] out Wednesday in the journal Nature, more than a dozen experts from around the world say that coral reefs are likely to undergo major changes as a result of continued climate change and other human activities, like fishing. But while future coral ecosystems might look a lot different than they do today, from the species they contain to the places they live, they aren't necessarily doomed. In fact, accepting this transition and helping them through it might be the best — and even only way — to save them.


Original Submission

Anthropocene News: Scientists Warn of "Sixth Mass Extinction", the Era of "Biological Annihilation" 40 comments

Environmental scientists are warning of a sixth mass extinction, pointing to a decline in vertebrate population sizes, even among species of least concern:

Many scientists say it's abundantly clear that Earth is entering its sixth mass-extinction event, meaning three-quarters of all species could disappear in the coming centuries. That's terrifying, especially since humans are contributing to this shift.

But that's not even the full picture of the "biological annihilation" people are inflicting on the natural world, according to a study published Monday [open, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1704949114] [DX] in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Gerardo Ceballos, an ecology professor at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, and his co-authors, including well-known Stanford University biologist Paul Ehrlich, cite striking new evidence that populations of species we thought were common are suffering in unseen ways. "What is at stake is really the state of humanity," Ceballos told CNN.

The authors: Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo.

Also at The Guardian and DW.

Related: For the Second Time, We Are Witnessing a New Geological Epoch: The Anthropocene
Crystals Win in the Anthropocene: 208 Manmade Minerals Identified


Original Submission

The Latest Chapter in Earth's History: The Meghalayan Age 8 comments

Welcome to the Meghalayan Age - a new phase in history

The official history of Earth has a new chapter - and we are in it. Geologists have classified the last 4,200 years as being a distinct age in the story of our planet. They are calling it the Meghalayan Age, the onset of which was marked by a mega-drought that crushed a number of civilisations worldwide.

The International Chronostratigraphic Chart, the famous diagram depicting the timeline for Earth's history (seen on many classroom walls) will be updated. It should be said, however, there is disquiet in the scientific community at the way the change has been introduced. Some researchers feel there has been insufficient discussion on the matter since the Meghalayan was first raised as an idea in a scholarly paper [DOI: 10.1002/jqs.2565] [DX] six years ago.

[...] The Meghalayan, the youngest stage, runs from 4,200 years ago to the present. It began with a destructive drought, whose effects lasted two centuries, and severely disrupted civilisations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and the Yangtze River Valley. It was likely triggered by shifts in ocean and atmospheric circulation. The Meghalayan Age is unique among the many intervals of the geologic timescale in that its beginning coincides with a global cultural event produced by a global climatic event, says Stanley Finney, professor of geological sciences at Long Beach State University and Secretary-General of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), which ratified the ICS proposal.

The middle phase of the Holocene will be referred to as the Northgrippian, and runs from 8,300 years ago up to the start of the Meghalayan. The onset for this age was an abrupt cooling, attributed to vast volumes of freshwater from melting glaciers in Canada running into the North Atlantic and disrupting ocean currents. The oldest phase of the Holocene - the exit from the ice age - will be known as the Greenlandian.

Scientists are still working on defining the (ongoing) Athropocene and some have criticized this new definition.

Related: For the Second Time, We Are Witnessing a New Geological Epoch: The Anthropocene
Crystals Win in the Anthropocene: 208 Manmade Minerals Identified
Anthropocene News: Scientists Warn of "Sixth Mass Extinction", the Era of "Biological Annihilation"


Original Submission

Geologists Reject Declaration of ‘Human Era’ in Earth’s Timeline 31 comments

Scientists argued that mankind had been reshaping the planet long before the 1950s:

A top panel of geologists has decided not to grant Anthropocene, or 'human age', its own distinct place in Earth's geological timeline after disagreeing over when exactly the era might have begun.

After 15 years of deliberation, a team of scientists made the case that humankind has so fundamentally altered the natural world that a new phase of Earth's existence – a new epoch – has already begun.

Soaring greenhouse gases, the spread of microplastics, decimation of other species, and fallout from nuclear tests – all were submitted as evidence that the world entered the Anthropocene in the mid-20th century.

But the proposal was rejected in a contentious vote that has been upheld by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the field's governing body said in a statement published on its website on March 21.

[...] Despite this, the Anthropocene would endure as a widely used term: "It will remain an invaluable descriptor of human impact on the Earth system," the union said.

In 2009 scientists began an enquiry that ultimately concluded that the Holocene epoch – which began 11,700 years ago as the last ice age ended – gave way to the Anthropocene around 1950.

They gathered a trove of evidence to show this, including traces of radioactive material found in the layered sediment of lakes, the global upheaval of plants and animals, and omnipresent "forever chemicals".

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  • (Score: 4, Insightful) by No Respect on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:30AM

    by No Respect (991) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:30AM (#289004)

    Aren't the boundaries between epochs only apparent in hindsight? I don't buy for one second that this demarcation of epoch is legitimate. And that's coming from someone who does think that AGW is a real thing.

    • (Score: 1, Insightful) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:36PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @12:36PM (#289029)

      talking about 1950 is hindsight.
      also, some other people are saying the new epoch started in the 1600s, basically due to europeans carrying stuff to and from the Americas thus causing changes that can actually be seen in the fossil record throughout the world --- see http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31836233. [bbc.com]
      my guess is that they know what they're doing...

      • (Score: 4, Interesting) by VLM on Wednesday January 13 2016, @01:11PM

        by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @01:11PM (#289037)

        Initially I agreed with OP, aside from prog social signalling it seems to have nothing scientific going for it.

        But AC mentioned the fossil record and that's a good scientific geologic point, suddenly all kinds of stuff "magically" crosses oceans after millions of years, despite never having done so before, thats a really good point AC.

        I'd agree with and extend ACs remarks to include our distant ancestors likely played some part in the extinction of mega fauna but we seem to be finishing the job on the merely kinda-big fauna. So no more pandas or rhinos or who knows maybe we'll wipe out the elephants and hippos too. Hippos suck, too bad about the others.

        Also our logistics curve will show up in geological records, as per logistical curves there's no or not much recoverable high grade coal anymore in the UK or oil in texas. I mean, sure there's pumps running at a 10th to 100th the speed they did in 1970, and as a rough rule of thumb half the oil underground is permanently unrecoverable, but we've sucked out all the large easy formations of the good stuff, its just gone. Mostly on land, still some oil under shallow seas and presumably the deep seas have plenty of oil. That'll be interesting too, regardless of continental layout, for many million years future geologists will be able to tell where oceans were in 1970 based on where we pumped out the oil and where we didn't.

        I bet there's weird funky stuff WRT rare earths. They're not necessarily rare but difficult as hell to separate from their "multicultural" raw ores, extremely energy intensive and expensive. So some geologist a billion years from now will be all WTF at seeing small, but pure veins of Samarium or whatever, how is that even geochemically possible unless dudes refined it millions of years ago.

        BTW this whole concept kind of dumps on sci fi ideas of ancient civilizations or alien strip mines. Every year we discover more ways to permanently, detectably change the planet, for better, worse, but mostly irrelevant, and we never find evidence that ancient aliens stole all our U-235 or ran off with all our palladium or whatever, but it would be trivial for geologists to tell a billion years from now that someone was doing something funky here and now. You can make anything by fissioning uranium, its really handy although dangerous, kinda like fire, so if space aliens came to earth a billion years ago you'd expect them to "borrow" all our fissionable uranium. Or they'd wander off with all our handy vanadium, or whatever else. But all scientific theory indicates they did not. Therefore they probably did not visit. Which has all kinds of implications for the space alien equation, we know they haven't visited in recorded history, but we can be pretty sure they never visited, ever...

        I'd have to hold my nose at the extensive prog signalling and all that and agree its scientifically a good idea. It should be possible to do a geologic dig in a million years and figure out when human civilization, however temporary and localized it was, arose for awhile in at least some areas.

        • (Score: 2) by Joe Desertrat on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:38PM

          by Joe Desertrat (2454) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:38PM (#289143)

          But AC mentioned the fossil record and that's a good scientific geologic point, suddenly all kinds of stuff "magically" crosses oceans after millions of years, despite never having done so before, that's a really good point AC.
          I'd agree with and extend AC's remarks to include our distant ancestors likely played some part in the extinction of mega fauna but we seem to be finishing the job on the merely kinda-big fauna. So no more pandas or rhinos or who knows maybe we'll wipe out the elephants and hippos too. Hippos suck, too bad about the others.

          We are wiping out even more of the small fauna, it is just that the largest are the most noticeable.

          You might also look at changes in sedimentation during the human era. Consider how much topsoil has been washed into the Gulf of Mexico from the Mississippi drainage, and realize that has been duplicated (usually, but not always, on a smaller scale) on thousands of rivers worldwide. Most of it comes from poor agricultural and construction processes. I would suspect that millions of years from now there will be distinctive bands of deposits from the "Anthropocene".

          • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:24PM

            by VLM (445) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:24PM (#289175)

            Yes good point I bet hydroelectric and other dams probably look weird in the geologic record after a couple million years.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:46PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:46PM (#289152)

          uhh, hippos kick ass!

        • (Score: 1) by angst_ridden_hipster on Thursday January 14 2016, @04:22AM

          by angst_ridden_hipster (5616) on Thursday January 14 2016, @04:22AM (#289380) Homepage
          you'd expect them to "borrow" all our fissionable uranium. Or they'd wander off with all our handy vanadium, or whatever else.

          Exactly! What exactly do you think happened to all of the glorkium, fluminium, and quuxigen?
          --
          Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani?
          www.fogbound.net
      • (Score: 2) by snick on Wednesday January 13 2016, @03:05PM

        by snick (1408) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @03:05PM (#289077)

        talking about 1950 is hindsight.

        Not on the geological time scale. 1950-now is an insignificant amount of time to pass.

        some other people are saying the new epoch started in the 1600s

        Still just an instant, but a much more believable baseline to be forming hypothesis on.

        • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Wednesday January 13 2016, @11:18PM

          by darkfeline (1030) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @11:18PM (#289313) Homepage

          It's only an instant when we consider geological change not effected by humans. Once we consider human impact, the geological timescale gets warped.

          Geologists don't care where the change comes from. If aliens came and started toying with the planet's geology, geologists would have no problem with making a new geological age every few months, until they decide this isn't going away and lump all of them under a new epoch/eon. After it is brought before a committee, of course; geology is serious business.

          Geology is one of the more hands-on sciences. They do in fact go out and look at the earth itself, and do not hole up in a laboratory dealing only with theory and academia. If they can go out and look at rocks and SEE the changes happening, well, that's that. Basically, this business is just deciding whether we want to give these changes an official name and time period.

          --
          Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
          • (Score: 2) by darkfeline on Wednesday January 13 2016, @11:24PM

            by darkfeline (1030) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @11:24PM (#289319) Homepage

            Amendment: Here's the clincher for me; if all humans disappeared at this moment, and a new sentient species arose millions/billions of years from now, they will be able to see the massive geological changes we caused in the geological record, because we have already left permanent geological marks on the planet. They will also be confused because of how damn fast these changes happened (an instant in terms of classical geologic time, as you correctly say), but the changes will be undeniable, and the new humans will eventually piece together what happened.

            The fact that these changes are now permanently recorded in the planet's geology is enough justification, in my opinion.

            --
            Join the SDF Public Access UNIX System today!
      • (Score: 2) by Anne Nonymous on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:45PM

        by Anne Nonymous (712) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:45PM (#289106)

        > 1950 is hindsight

        The bible tells us that the Earth was not created until 1981.

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:54PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:54PM (#289113)

          But UNIX tells us the Earth wasn't created until January 1st, 1970.

          • (Score: 2) by Pino P on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:27PM

            by Pino P (4721) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:27PM (#289130) Journal

            The fact that it's a year 2038 problem (2^31 = about 2.147 billion seconds after the epoch) and not a year 2106 problem (2^32 = about 4.295 billion seconds after the epoch) shows that 32-bit UNIX recognizes at least the entire twentieth century CE.

            • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14 2016, @10:24AM

              by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14 2016, @10:24AM (#289439)

              Yeah, but according to Unix time, everything before 1970 was negative.

    • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:21PM

      by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:21PM (#289172) Journal

      I don't buy for one second that this demarcation of epoch is legitimate.
       
      Plastic showing up in the fossil record seems like a pretty useful demarcation to me.

    • (Score: 2) by Username on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:09PM

      by Username (4557) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:09PM (#289272)

      Don’t worry, in 10,000 years neither one will exist.

  • (Score: 2, Interesting) by WalksOnDirt on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:32AM

    by WalksOnDirt (5854) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @10:32AM (#289005) Journal

    The Holocene is just a geological epoch because it is important to us. If the glacial cycle continues it would be no more remarkable than the Eemian was. However, the Anthropocene looks like it will deserve its place in the geological record.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:51PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @04:51PM (#289110)

      Dump the Holocene? Are you some kind of Holocene denier?!

      • (Score: 2) by Pino P on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:45PM

        by Pino P (4721) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:45PM (#289151) Journal

        Are you some kind of Holocene denier?!

        Perhaps, in the sense of denying that Holocene conditions differ substantially from those of Pleistocene interglacial periods, especially compared to the differences with the Anthropocene. It's not like anyone's denying the Maastrichtocaust [wikipedia.org].

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:14PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:14PM (#289165) Journal

      The Holocene is just a geological epoch because it is important to us.

      Which is precisely why you don't want to dump it as a geological epoch. And it will retain significance merely because it is the preceding epoch to the Anthropocene which already demarcates the most important event in Earth's past since the creation of life.

  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:18PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @05:18PM (#289124)

    A bunch of scientists are trying to make a name with an attempt to get it recognized. It will take years (if it ever get accepted).

    A proper title for TFS would be more like "Are We Witnessing a New Geological Epoch?".

    Then you can apply Betteridge's law as you like.

    • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:34PM

      by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:34PM (#289183) Journal
      The answer is obviously yes. As has been mentioned before, the usual way epochs are established is by changes in rock type or fossils. The sudden prevalence of species that coexist with humans, such as the Norway rat, a ludicrous variety of cockroaches, pet species like dogs and cats, agriculture-related species like corn, wheat, rice, cows, sheep, and thousands of other pest/weed species. Even if humanity died off tomorrow, that would still result in a massive and permanent change in the fossil record.

      But in addition, we would have a variety of human artifacts likely to survive millions of years particularly anything traditionally buried like landfills (with glass and plastics in particular, surviving for geological periods of time), coffins, and pipes/tunnels.

      As to changes in rock type, I don't know. There probably are subtle changes in erosion from human activity (such as dam building and agriculture), but I don't see massive changes in rock type unless our landfills continue to grow perhaps.
      • (Score: 2) by DeathMonkey on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:54PM

        by DeathMonkey (1380) on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:54PM (#289195) Journal
        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:59PM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday January 13 2016, @06:59PM (#289201) Journal
          True, though that seems conditional on humanity continuing to release soot and plastic litter on the world for a geologically significant period of time.
        • (Score: 3, Funny) by aristarchus on Thursday January 14 2016, @07:53AM

          by aristarchus (2645) on Thursday January 14 2016, @07:53AM (#289410) Journal

          Any sedimentary rock that forms now will likely contain plastic, soot and have elevated radiation levels.

          (future textbook on paleontology)

          "The once dominant species on Earth was wiped out in a cataclysismic impact of a large meteor composed almost entirely of sooty, radioactive plastic, as evidenced but the "BPA" layer in strata laid down during an immediately after the event. If not for this random event, mammals might rule the earth instead of us Cuchorachas."

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:08PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:08PM (#289271)

        Not "obviously". The day, years ahead, it is ratified by the International Union on Geological Sciences then and only then the answer will be yes. Meanwhile, it's not and the title on SN is wrong, bordering on click-bait.

        To be clear, I read the article and I'm not criticizing their science. I'm criticizing the buzz around it. As long as it's not done, it's not done, period.

        • (Score: 1) by khallow on Thursday January 14 2016, @03:55AM

          by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Thursday January 14 2016, @03:55AM (#289376) Journal
          What does a bureaucratic decision have to do with geological reality? The IUGS didn't decide to spread invasive species or build landfills all over the place. They or some successor organization will just assign a label to what has already happened.
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:44PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 13 2016, @09:44PM (#289281)

      A proper title for TFS would be more like "Are We Witnessing a New Geological Epoch?".

      No, a proper title would be: "Are geologists now propagandizing for the Climate Change Nonsense"? Protip: Carbon has 100x less impact than previously believed. Climate change is still driven by our orbital eccentricity (elliptical vs circular) and the sun's activity cycle. The modern "hockey stick" ignores the medieval warm period which was warmer then than now. You are being fed socialist propaganda in order to institute a "carbon tax" everything has a "carbon footprint", thus a tax across the board to benefit the tax man will be levied.

      There is little science to be found in the AGW propaganda.

    • (Score: -1, Flamebait) by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14 2016, @01:45AM

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 14 2016, @01:45AM (#289346)

      Religious humans always have a way of romanticising their pet mental defect of the day. This is the result of alot of green propoganda and misinformation. Too bad they arent held accountable for false predictions and asked to refund mispent money. Like, 83 trillion dollars to starve plants of CO2, wheres the 83 trillion dollars to combat cancer or heart disease?