Anthropocene’s Marker

The Ediacaran Period, which ended some 540 million years ago, is marked by a gold spike in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia. JAMES ST. JOHN

We do not love the word Anthropocene, but we appreciate the marker it represents. And until now we did not know there would be a physical counterpart, a marker that will be placed in a representative location:

A Golden Spike Would Mark the Earth’s Next Epoch: But Where?

Before the Anthropocene can be officially proclaimed, a scientific working group must select a single site that permanently captures the new human-influenced epoch. Nine candidate sites — from California to China to Antarctica — are under consideration, with a decision expected soon.

The peatland below Poland’s Mount Śnieżka contains contaminants from burning fossil fuels, nuclear testing, and other human activities. MYSTICWALKER / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

At first glance, these nine sites scattered across the globe seem unremarkable. A peat bog in Poland’s Sudeten Mountains. Searsville Lake, in California, and Crawford Lake, in Ontario. A stretch of seafloor in the Baltic Sea, a bay in Japan, a water-filled volcanic crater in China, an ice core drilled from the Antarctic Peninsula, and two coral reefs, in Australia and the Gulf of Mexico.

But these sites share a significant characteristic: they are all finalists in a remarkable scientific competition that’s expected to announce a winner in the next few weeks. The selected location will — if accepted by the International Union of Geological Sciences, the scientific body that names the Earth’s eras and epochs — both define and represent what scientists are calling the Anthropocene, a new geological epoch that reflects how profoundly humans have altered the planet.

While naturalists and scientists have pondered humanity’s impact on the Earth for centuries, it took until 2000 for the term Anthropocene to gain traction, propelled into the public by Paul Crutzen, a Dutch-born atmospheric chemist who, in 1995, shared a Nobel Prize for research on the depletion of the planet’s ozone layer, and the American ecologist Eugene Stoermer. In 2009, the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) was formed to determine if a new epoch — marked by human-caused changes — was, indeed, warranted.

Human-made climate change is one of many reasons given by the working group to support its case for the Anthropocene. Humanity has also flooded the planet with synthetic chemicals and new radioactive isotopes that will be measurable far into the future, the group argues, and has derailed the natural course of evolution by moving species between continents. In this long view, cities, industrial sites, tunnels, and mines are geological formations in their own right, packed with “techno-fossils” that will long outlast current civilizations…

Read the whole article here.

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