Earth history opens a new chapter

An international group of scientists has proposed that fallout from hundreds of nuclear weapons tests in the late 1940s to early 1960s could be used to mark the dawn of a new geological age in Earth history – the Anthropocene.

The study, led by Dr Colin Waters of the British Geological Survey, published new research in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. The research involved 10 members of the Anthropocene Working Group that is chaired by Professor Jan Zalasiewicz of the Department of Geology at Leicester and Gary Hancock, a world expert on plutonium in the environment.

The researchers state that the mid-twentieth century coincides with the ‘Great Acceleration’ of human population growth, economic development and industrialization. The emergence of megacities, facilitated by the production of huge quantities of concrete, is coincident with earth movement on a vast scale.

Meanwhile, mineral exploitation has resulted in the generation of marked geochemical signatures across the globe and this age of hydrocarbon burning has resulted in greatly increased carbon emissions. Humanity’s modification of the planet has also caused an increase in species extinctions and invasions.

According to the researchers, all of these features are being expressed in the sediments accumulating across the planet and will be recognisable to the geoscientists of the far future.

Professor Zalasiewicz said: “The Anthropocene has struck a chord in the wider world that none of the other geological time units have done – not even the dinosaur-haunted Jurassic. Human beings don’t merely inhabit the world. They alter it, on an increasingly epic scale.”

  • In 2016, the Anthropocene Working Group hopes to make recommendations on whether this new time unit should be formalized and, if so, how it might be defined and characterized.
  • Press Release