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17 January 2016
The Anthropocene: hard evidence for a human-driven Earth

According to a recent paper by an international group of Earth scientists, the evidence for a new geological epoch which marks the impact of human activity is now overwhelming.
     The Holocene was the period during which human societies advanced by gradually domesticating the land to increase food production, building urban settlements and becoming proficient at developing water, mineral, and energy resources.
     The Anthropocene is proposed as the era of rapid environmental change brought on by the impact of a surge in human population and increased consumption during the 'Great Acceleration' of the mid-20th century.
     Dr Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey says: "Humans have long affected the environment, but recently there has been a rapid global spread of novel materials including aluminium, concrete, and plastics, which are leaving their mark in sediments. Fossil-fuel combustion has dispersed fly ash particles worldwide, pretty well coincident with the peak distribution of the 'bomb spike' of radionuclides generated by atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons."
     "All of this shows that there is an underlying reality to the Anthropocene concept", comments Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester, who is chairman of the working group and a co-author of the paper.
     The study, co-authored by 24 members of the Anthropocene Working Group, shows that humans have changed the Earth enough to produce a range of signals in sediments and ice, sufficiently distinctive to justify recognition of an Anthropocene Epoch in the Geological Time Scale. In 2016 the Anthropocene Working Group will gather more evidence, which will help inform recommendations on whether this new time unit should be formalised and, if so, how it might be defined and characterised.

Edited from University of Leicester PR (7 January 2016), Archaeology (8 January 2016)

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