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FOP’s Geologic TIme Viewer in action last weekend
Human activity, the group wrote, is altering the planet “on a scale comparable with some of the major events of the ancient past. Some of these changes are now seen as permanent, even on a geological time-scale.” – Elizabeth Kolbert, The Anthropocene Debate: Marking Humanity’s Impact
There’s breaking news at the top edge of the geologic time scale today. An article by Elizabeth Kolbert in Yale Environment 360, “The Anthropocene Debate: Marking Humanity’s Impact,” discusses the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s (the keepers of the official geologic time scale) recent deliberations that the current epoch (the Holocene) be renamed the Anthropocene. If accepted, their suggestion will move on to the International Union of Geological Sciences and potentially become a formally designated epoch within the official geologic time scale.
Changes to the geologic time scale aren’t taken lightly and this one could take years to be approved. For a new epoch to qualify for consideration, planetary impact of that epoch must extend through millions of years. In the past this has only been accomplished by monumental geologic events such as mass extinction or the waxing and waning of continent-sized glaciers. It seems that more and more geologists are agreeing that humans have now achieved a similar degree of influence.
Kolbert’s article draws on the concise paper, “The New World of the Anthropocene,” published recently in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. This piece was co-authored by a group of geologists, including Paul Crutzen who coined the name Anthropocene in 2000. It discusses the extent of human impact in scientific detail and shows how, for the first time in the planet’s history, these changes warrant an epoch whose name refers to human forces (Gk. anthropos: “man, human being”) rather than geologic forces.
For now, the Anthropocene Working Group of the International Commission on Stratigraphy has been established to take up the task of contemplating this possibility. We look forward to learning if and when the Commission is ready to formally acknowledge that the very fabric of the earth will include materials of the human/geologic connection for all deep time to come.
*This Thursday-Saturday FOP’s Geologic Time Viewer will be available to visitors at MIT’s Digital + Visual Interpretations conference. The Viewer offers users a chance to vividly experience the Anthropocene both as the present epoch surrounding us, and as an era that enculturates all previous geologic eras and epochs through products and forms of human design.
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