When Did the Anthropocene Actually Begin?

Invasive species introduced by humans into new regions may also be markers, the scientists said. Accidental importation of alien species in the ballast water of ships arriving in San Francisco from Asia transformed the San Francisco Bay. “There was a point where 98 percent of the mass of all animal species in the Bay were actually invasive,” Waters said. Pollen from introduced plant species, such as trees used in commercial forestry, can also show changes.

Chemical and metallic contaminants also show up in sediments, Turner said: “The Green Revolution was based on artificial fertilizers and pesticides, and you see that in sediment cores too. The whole cocktail of industrial chemicals just exploded after the war.” Whether the chemicals persist in the environment long enough to be markers of the Anthropocene remains to be seen.

The 12 potential locations for the site that will define the new epoch all show some of the markings, but they are very different. “Since the Anthropocene hasn’t been officially accepted, we’re still trying to prove to people that this isn’t something localized, but something that you find and correlates across a whole range of different environments,” Waters said.

“They all illustrate very well this dramatic Anthropocene transformation. But the places that really stand out are the ones where you can actually see annual dissolution of layers,” Turner said, including some of the sea, coral, and polar ice sites. “It’s quite amazing that these pages detail planetary changes at annual resolutions.”

All have advantages and disadvantages. The 32-meter-long Palmer Ice Core from the Antarctic Peninsula is the longest record of the Anthropocene, but due to its remote location, traces of some of the markers are often faint. The Baltic Sea sediments turn from pale to black at the beginning of the Anthropocene. This is caused by pollution-related algal blooms that suck all the oxygen out of the water. But the sediments don’t have annual layers. The archeological site in central Vienna has a 200-year record, dated by artifacts, but with gaps in the record due to redevelopment.

The choice of location, and therefore the official time and place for the beginning of the Anthropocene, is in the hands of the 23 voting members of the AWG, but must then be approved by the Sub-Commission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, and then by the International Commission on Stratigraphy, and finally by the International Union of Geological Sciences to be ratified. There’s also a deadline: the International Geological Congress in South Korea in 2024, when the AWG’s mandate expires. “It was pretty much said that we have until then to get this done,” Waters said.

Naomi Oreskes, a Harvard University professor and non-voting AWG member, said: “As geologists, we were trained to think of people as insignificant. That was once true, but it isn’t anymore. The evidence compiled by the AWG shows beyond a doubt that the human footprint is now detectable in rocks and sediments. The Anthropocene is primarily a scientific concept, but it also sheds light on the cultural, political, and economic implications of our actions.”

Mark Maslin from UCL, co-author The human planet with Simon Lewis, said, “I think the Anthropocene is a critical philosophical notion because it allows you to think about what impact we have and what impact we want to have in the future.”

Maslin and Lewis previously proposed 1610 as the beginning of the Anthropocene, representing the enormous and deadly impact of European colonists on the Americas and consequently the world. But Maslin said that agreeing on a definition is more important than exactly where to place it.

“Up until now we’ve been talking about things like climate change, the biodiversity crisis, the pollution crisis as separate things,” he said. “The key concept of the Anthropocene is to wrap it all up and say that humans have a tremendous impact on Earth, we are the new geological superpower. This holistic approach then allows you to say, ‘What are we doing about it?’”

https://www.wired.com/story/when-did-the-anthropocene-actually-begin/ When Did the Anthropocene Actually Begin?

Zack Zwiezen

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