Are we living in a new geological epoch?

Human activity is affecting both the Earth’s climate and ecosystems. It is not only causing environmental harm, but also lasting changes in the Earth’s crust. Many refer to the epoch that mankind’s influence has given rise to as the Anthropocene age – the Age of Man.

“Anthropocene” is a geological term that is now used frequently by many people other than geologists, including environmental scientist Professor Johan Rockström.

“It’s good that environmental change and climate change are topics of public debate, but there’s also a debate on-going among geologists as to whether this really is a new epoch from a geological standpoint,” explains Mark Johnson, Head of the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Earth Sciences.

Officially, we are currently living in the geological period known as the Holocene epoch. This period began at the end of the last ice age — the most recent major environmental shift in Earth’s history. The question being debated is whether or not we have now entered a new epoch — the Anthropocene epoch — referring to the Age of Man.

The Anthropocene period has been proposed as a new geological epoch. It is defined as the age in which human activity has had a global impact on the planet’s ecosystems, climate and crust.

Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

It was previously suggested that this epoch began with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, while the latest propositions set the starting date as coinciding with the end of World War II.
“The idea hasn’t received scientific sanction yet, but there’s no doubt that we’ve entered an age in which human activity is affecting the Earth’s natural cycles. We see evidence of this in the sediment in lakes, such as in the composition of materials and in the increase in the rate of sedimentation. We’re also seeing an increase in chemical pollutants like nitrate in sediment, even in remote locations,” Johnson continues.

Geologists currently calculate the Earth’s age to be just over 4.5 billion years. Among other methods, geologists can determine the planet’s various ages and epochs by examining layers in its crust.
“The dinosaurs lived on Earth for more than 150 million years during what geologists refer to as the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods. If you compare that with the approximately 50 years that would cover the Anthropocene age to date, you come to understand that geological epochs are long periods of time that can first be defined more precisely after the fact,” explains Johnson.

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) is expected to propose a definition of the Anthropocene period before the end of the year.