The Age of Human Influence: Unveiling the Advent of the Anthropocene Epoch


Since the mid-20th century, human activities have exerted a profound influence on Earth, resulting in significant consequences such as climate change, species extinction, and pollution. The magnitude of humanity’s impact has been so substantial that scientists have identified the commencement of a new geological epoch during this period. Termed the Anthropocene epoch, the name derives from the Greek words for “human” and “new.”

The Anthropocene, which characterizes a novel geological epoch marked by the significant influence of human activities on Earth’s systems, has officially been designated to commence in the year 1950. The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) on July 11, 2023, proposed that the new era, christened by Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2000, started just after World War II. The unique reference point for the Anthropocene is Crawford Lake near Toronto in Canada’s Ontario Province. The AWG is a collaborative research group committed to exploring the Anthropocene through interdisciplinary approaches. If the proposal gains the required majority support, the International Union of Geological Sciences has the potential to officially endorse the new Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) by August 2024.

The Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point(GSSP), holds significance as a recognized geological reference point demarcating the boundary between two distinct time units. It serves as a universally acknowledged benchmark for defining and correlating various periods throughout Earth’s history. GSSPs play a pivotal role in establishing the boundaries of epochs, ages, and other divisions within the geologic time scale.

The initiation of the Anthropocene epoch finds supporting evidence in Crawford Lake,where the presence of plutonium, a radioactive element, has been detected. The concentration of plutonium particles experienced a noticeable surge around the year 1950, signifying a substantial shift that directly points to human influence and thus offers compelling evidence for the existence of the Anthropocene era.

The research outcomes from Crawford Lake offered compelling evidence supporting the hypothesis put forth by the AWG. According to this hypothesis, the remarkable surge in industrial and socioeconomic activities during the Great Acceleration in the mid-twentieth century has led to significant modifications in the Earth System. These changes have terminated a period of approximately 11,700 years characterized by predominantly stable Holocene conditions, thereby initiating a new epoch in Earth’s history.

It’s clearly unavoided to get an idea about this phenomenon, In 2000, Nobel laureate chemist Paul Crutzen and biology professor Eugene Stoermer coined the term “Anthropocene” to describe the current geological time interval, characterized by profound transformations in the Earth’s ecosystem as a result of human influence, particularly since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This epoch is associated with various phenomena, including Global Warming, Sea-Level Rise, Ocean Acidification, extensive soil erosion, the emergence of severe Heat Waves, degradation of the biosphere, and other detrimental environmental changes.

The Holocene epoch, commencing approximately 11,700 years ago after the conclusion of the last major ice age, represents the current geological period. It is distinguished by a relatively consistent and warm climate, as well as the progress of human civilization. The Holocene follows the Pleistocene epoch and resides within the broader Quaternary period. Throughout the Holocene, Earth’s climate underwent fluctuations; however, on the whole, it has been a period characterized by comparatively milder and more stable conditions in contrast to the preceding ice age. The recession of glaciers and the elevation of global temperatures facilitated the expansion of forests, grasslands, and diverse ecosystems.

Geologists categorize Earth’s 4.6-billion-year history into various temporal units, including Eons, Eras, Systems/Periods, Series/Epochs, and Stages/Ages. Eons are further divided into Eras, Eras into Periods, Periods into Epochs, and Epochs into Ages. Every division within this chronological framework corresponds to notable events and phenomena, including the fragmentation of continents, substantial climate variations, and the emergence of specific types of animal and plant species.

According to scientists, the influence of humans on Earth is akin to the impact of a meteorite that struck the planet 66 million years ago, leading to the extinction of dinosaurs and marking the beginning of the Cenozoic Era, also known as the age of mammals. However, in contrast to the meteorite’s role in initiating an entirely new era, the working group suggests that human activities have initiated a new epoch. It’s worth noting that an epoch represents a relatively smaller geological time span compared to an era.

Widespread evidence across the globe demonstrates the detrimental effects on Earth’s well-being resulting from activities such as burning fossil fuels, deploying nuclear weapons, and the release of fertilizers and plastics into land and water ecosystems.The intensified magnitude of these changes unequivocally indicates the significant impact of human activities on Earth’s health.

sayanthana K
sayanthana K
English journalism student from IIMC Dhenkanal ( Indian institute of mass communication


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