Humanity's geological mark on Earth

Bansal

Akhil Bansal
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Leaving a mark’ is what billions have strove for and what billions are striving now. Many feel it is akin to immortality, when you live in imagination of others forever. Well, dinosaurs seems immortal by that yardstick, at least their ‘life after death’ is more than 65 million years, when they re-live in our imagination.
But what about us, Homo sapiens. Will we be remembered? Will we relive our moments in someone else’s minds millions of years after we are gone?
Although the consensus on the age of the first anatomically modern humans is yet to emerge, we can safely say that Homo sapiens came into their modern form about 70,000 years ago after Cognitive Revolution. We started large scale modification of nature about 10,000 years ago when Agriculture Revolution begun and we truly started dominating the nature with beginning of Scientific Revolution about 500 years ago.
This may sound like many many years, looonnng time. But for Earth, which is 4.6 billion years old, this is NOTHING. 70,000 years, 100,000 years or even 1 million years , geologically, seem unable to leave a fat stratum that will shout out to a future intelligent species that ‘yeah we yankees were here before them’. It may leave only very slim strata at few places, many of which will get erased through erosional processes.
Then what will a ‘geologist’ in AD 65002018 see in those layers. Traces of plastic, radionucleotides here and there and a sudden extinction of mammalian fauna. Can’t somebody erroneously conclude it to be a signature of a compositionally unusual asteroid’s impact. An asteroid laced with plastics, radioactive substances and some more anthropogenic polluting things. Again we will loose our chance of being remembered, even for negative remembrance.
Further, we may get extinct with the Earth never having any intelligent, curious and organised species again. Or we may ‘de-evolve’ into something we consider rudimentary, a normal unintelligent, lazy forest species. That may happen. Nature is always full of surprises. In that case, no one will be there to even visit our grave, buried deep beneath the Earth, leave alone recognising it correctly.
Perhaps we should become comfortable with the idea that no one will even remember that there was a self-proclaimed super-intelligent species self-named Humans. No alien, no earthling. Or perhaps we should create some specific human flagposts and bury them in the depositional basins of today which will tell the future Earth’s generations of life that, “We Were There Once”. Remembered!
 

BAYLOR

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Definitely and Interesting topic . :cool:But, It should be in the science section .:)
 

Les

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You should read Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick.

A party of alien archeologists try to learn the mysteries of mankind as they excavate in a gorge on Earth--thousands of years after mankind has become extinct. A gripping exploration of human origins and motivations. Nebula Award Winner, Hugo Award Winner
 

picklematrix

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You should read Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick.

A party of alien archeologists try to learn the mysteries of mankind as they excavate in a gorge on Earth--thousands of years after mankind has become extinct. A gripping exploration of human origins and motivations. Nebula Award Winner, Hugo Award Winner
That sounds pretty intriguing. Might have to add it to the tbr list.
 

Venusian Broon

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The one thing that I think you omitted from the list of things that we will leave behind are a very large number of rectilinear imprints - i.e. foundations and other traces of buildings. These can be substantial, and some should, I believe be long-lasting and relatively easy to 'fossilise', and perhaps more importantly we've actually covered a significant proportion of the globe with such structures. Also If the shells of Ammoniod can exist in huge numbers in the fossil record, surely things like dressed stone and artificial bricks can do the same. I think there will be a lot more in future rock strata than you think!

'De-evolve' I disagree with. I believe that evolution is blind and has no aim or preferred outcome. This idea that a sentient thinking species, like humans, is a 'pinnacle' of evolution , is I feel, a very 19th century view. Yes it may possibly mean that star-faring and interstellar exploration traits and even intelligence itself is ephemeral, although I do think there is a also a chance we, as a species, are moving from away from evolutionary to teleological development, but that's another discussion.

As for the far future....well the average mammalian species lasts about 2 million years. Perhaps 10 million if we're lucky. I actually do suspect our descendants will be around at these points in the future, although we may be a little shocked at how they turned out.

In cosmic terms the clock is ticking. Although we estimate that our Sun is just half-way through it's life and that there's still a good 4.5 billion years left, I've seen some estimates that as our star continues it's evolution into it's old age, we might only have 300 million years of conditions conducive to life on Earth as we know it now. While that seems a lot, remember that life probably first started on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. On those scales, 300 million years is the end game. If we (or whatever sentient and potential space-faring beings exist in Earth's future) can't get to Mars at the very least....or (most optimistically, I feel) build our/their own Dyson swarm on our way to a stage 2 Kardashav civilisation in that time, then the legacy of life on Earth will be a hot ball of rock inhabited more or less only by a extremophile bacteria.

But there are other traces. We are noisy brats and have been pumping out a whole host of radio-waves of many different frequencies for over a hundred years now. It will continues while we're still around. Whose to say that a real stage 2 civilisation, with the immense amount of power and ability to manipulate their surroundings, even at the other end of the galaxy will not be able to find our broadcasts and listen in, millions of years from now?

And of course there are the Voyager spacecraft: leaving the solar system right now and may outlive the star system that they were constructed in.
 

Robert Zwilling

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But there are other traces. We are noisy brats and have been pumping out a whole host of radio-waves of many different frequencies for over a hundred years now.
The electronic footprint makes an interesting signature. The 1985 Explorers movie did a good job of how that could work out if contact was made. Funny how that is embedded in the stuff being sent out.

The power that creates life out of supposedly nothing is part of the basic universe design, as is the process that puts water on the surface on newly formed planets. The big asteroid that comes along every so often is also part of the grand design. The life that comes after the initial creation and what it does is based on chance with no particular design in mind. If that life becomes articulate it will invent gods that explain it's existence. After a very long time the plastic might go back to being oil or coal. The spacecraft wandering through space are like the bits of slime the slime mold throws out ahead of itself when it comes to an obstruction. The fallout creating the geological layers from the various schemes to create an efficient form of power that beats the finality of evolution is pretty chaotic until something that actually works is utilized. In our haste to cut corners I would not be surprised if the concrete from Roman times outlasts current concrete mixtures, like finding a complete pot in a pile of pot shards.
 

Bansal

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The one thing that I think you omitted from the list of things that we will leave behind are a very large number of rectilinear imprints - i.e. foundations and other traces of buildings. These can be substantial, and some should, I believe be long-lasting and relatively easy to 'fossilise', and perhaps more importantly we've actually covered a significant proportion of the globe with such structures. Also If the shells of Ammoniod can exist in huge numbers in the fossil record, surely things like dressed stone and artificial bricks can do the same. I think there will be a lot more in future rock strata than you think!

'De-evolve' I disagree with. I believe that evolution is blind and has no aim or preferred outcome. This idea that a sentient thinking species, like humans, is a 'pinnacle' of evolution , is I feel, a very 19th century view. Yes it may possibly mean that star-faring and interstellar exploration traits and even intelligence itself is ephemeral, although I do think there is a also a chance we, as a species, are moving from away from evolutionary to teleological development, but that's another discussion.

As for the far future....well the average mammalian species lasts about 2 million years. Perhaps 10 million if we're lucky. I actually do suspect our descendants will be around at these points in the future, although we may be a little shocked at how they turned out.

In cosmic terms the clock is ticking. Although we estimate that our Sun is just half-way through it's life and that there's still a good 4.5 billion years left, I've seen some estimates that as our star continues it's evolution into it's old age, we might only have 300 million years of conditions conducive to life on Earth as we know it now. While that seems a lot, remember that life probably first started on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. On those scales, 300 million years is the end game. If we (or whatever sentient and potential space-faring beings exist in Earth's future) can't get to Mars at the very least....or (most optimistically, I feel) build our/their own Dyson swarm on our way to a stage 2 Kardashav civilisation in that time, then the legacy of life on Earth will be a hot ball of rock inhabited more or less only by a extremophile bacteria.

But there are other traces. We are noisy brats and have been pumping out a whole host of radio-waves of many different frequencies for over a hundred years now. It will continues while we're still around. Whose to say that a real stage 2 civilisation, with the immense amount of power and ability to manipulate their surroundings, even at the other end of the galaxy will not be able to find our broadcasts and listen in, millions of years from now?

And of course there are the Voyager spacecraft: leaving the solar system right now and may outlive the star system that they were constructed in.
You are right there may be many different kinds of imprints we leave on Earth and there will be many geological processes which will preserve, efface, redesign and
The one thing that I think you omitted from the list of things that we will leave behind are a very large number of rectilinear imprints - i.e. foundations and other traces of buildings. These can be substantial, and some should, I believe be long-lasting and relatively easy to 'fossilise', and perhaps more importantly we've actually covered a significant proportion of the globe with such structures. Also If the shells of Ammoniod can exist in huge numbers in the fossil record, surely things like dressed stone and artificial bricks can do the same. I think there will be a lot more in future rock strata than you think!

'De-evolve' I disagree with. I believe that evolution is blind and has no aim or preferred outcome. This idea that a sentient thinking species, like humans, is a 'pinnacle' of evolution , is I feel, a very 19th century view. Yes it may possibly mean that star-faring and interstellar exploration traits and even intelligence itself is ephemeral, although I do think there is a also a chance we, as a species, are moving from away from evolutionary to teleological development, but that's another discussion.

As for the far future....well the average mammalian species lasts about 2 million years. Perhaps 10 million if we're lucky. I actually do suspect our descendants will be around at these points in the future, although we may be a little shocked at how they turned out.

In cosmic terms the clock is ticking. Although we estimate that our Sun is just half-way through it's life and that there's still a good 4.5 billion years left, I've seen some estimates that as our star continues it's evolution into it's old age, we might only have 300 million years of conditions conducive to life on Earth as we know it now. While that seems a lot, remember that life probably first started on Earth about 3.8 billion years ago. On those scales, 300 million years is the end game. If we (or whatever sentient and potential space-faring beings exist in Earth's future) can't get to Mars at the very least....or (most optimistically, I feel) build our/their own Dyson swarm on our way to a stage 2 Kardashav civilisation in that time, then the legacy of life on Earth will be a hot ball of rock inhabited more or less only by a extremophile bacteria.

But there are other traces. We are noisy brats and have been pumping out a whole host of radio-waves of many different frequencies for over a hundred years now. It will continues while we're still around. Whose to say that a real stage 2 civilisation, with the immense amount of power and ability to manipulate their surroundings, even at the other end of the galaxy will not be able to find our broadcasts and listen in, millions of years from now?

And of course there are the Voyager spacecraft: leaving the solar system right now and may outlive the star system that they were constructed in.
You are right. Our imprints will be more varied and what is preserved and found out will depend a lot on Earth and simply serendipity. Whether we go down the evolutionary hole without getting noticed or someone discovers us and gives us his name as our species name is more of a matter of chance. We don't know yet how many intelligent and conscious species have arisen in the universe, when , where and most importantly, with what purpose.
 

Venusian Broon

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Faced with the nihilism of this thread, all I can think to say is:

And crawling on
the planet's face
some insects called
the human race,

lost in time
and lost in space
and meaning.
That or it's just a jump to your left, then a step to your right.
 

Venusian Broon

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That might help you dodge a killer asteroid but it ain't gonna save you when the sun turns into a red giant.
When that happens, on the day that our sun will go away...I'll just sing "I'm going home"

Of course, if that really were the case I'd be a good couple of billion of years old, probably be wanting an end to it all....
 

RJM Corbet

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We'll be the plastic age? There was the stone age and the bronze age. When they dig us up, we'll be the plastic age? A very necessary material to our civilizations? Produced from petrochemicals.
 

Bansal

Akhil Bansal
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Plastic Age seems apt and our intelligent species is still speculating on the purpose of their lives, maybe the generation of plastic, as per the legendary George Carlin.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I'm not in favor of using plastic when it doesn't need to used, for example, we have to use plastic in the medical industry. If we hadn't substituted plastic for wood there would be a lot less trees around today and a marked decrease in biodiversity, though that is also waiting for a sinking ship to run aground. At first I thought the layer would be quite chaotic, but now I'm thinking it is more like a series of discrete layers representing very deliberate decisions that were directed by financial rewards versus the whims of a natural world.
 

Bansal

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You should read Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick.

A party of alien archeologists try to learn the mysteries of mankind as they excavate in a gorge on Earth--thousands of years after mankind has become extinct. A gripping exploration of human origins and motivations. Nebula Award Winner, Hugo Award Winner
Read. Amazing and imaginatively powerful. Thanks Les.
 
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Dave

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...If we hadn't substituted plastic for wood there would be a lot less trees around today and a marked decrease in biodiversity...
But man has used wood sustainably for hundreds of thousands of years, and animals made wooden tools (Birds, Apes) for even longer. Wood is a renewable resource, and when properly managed, it can be sustainable. Logging is much less of a problem than slash-and-burn agriculture.

The problem with plastic is not plastic as a material itself (although the Oil we currently make it from is a finite resource) but single use plastic objects that are disposable and throw-away. Wooden objects were reused, re-purposed, treasured even. Plastic objects are not. They are generally poorly made and don't last very long (medical plastics would be an exception here.)

However, while wood biodegrades, plastic does not. Plastic breaks down into tiny plastic particles, invisible to the naked eye but which can enter the food chain. Every time you wash a polyester shirt you release these too. Eventually through little fish being eating by bigger fish, we also eat the plastic too. It is now inside us. Organisms from six of the deepest ocean depressions have now been researched, lying up to 11,000 meters below sea level. 72% of them also contained micro plastics.

Our geological mark will be a thick layer of plastic and concrete, rich in iron and other metals, and slightly radioactive. They have already discovered a new kind of plastic rich conglomerate forming on a seabed and given it a name.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I believe there weren't enough people to dent the natural replenishment of the natural world we daily turn into cinders until recently, say the past 500-1,000 years. Perhaps 500 million to a billion people compared to the 8 billion and counting we have now. Until that time we continually took more than we put back, or rather, allowed to be put back. It is just as important for the fishing industry to replace all the different kinds of fish we take out of the world as it is for the wood industry and the land development industries to replace all the biodiversified forest land that is destroyed every year. Forests that are not biodiversified are dysfunctional carbon sinks. There are no large scale forested areas with the biodiversification that was present 10,000 years ago. All those different animals from the giant to the tiny, insect to mammal, formed huge networks where they all had jobs to in the forests which kept them and the forests and their offspring alive. We removed all those animals and networks but didn't bother to do the jobs those animals and insects did. Like a big building where all the utility services are not being done and now if the tenants want things to work, like hot water, they better learn how to supply, maintain, and repair those utility services.

Over the past couple of thousand years we have moved a lot of the places where trees need to be to places that are convenient for civilization, the same way the original populations of colonized mineral rich areas were moved to places more convenient for the colonizers. At the beginning of human civilization there were 6 trillion trees, now there are around 3 trillion, and we are still taking out more than we plant, even if it is only dysfunctional forests or even worse mono culture tree plantations. There has never been a hint of sustainability in anything we do. We are running a net deficient of around 10 billion trees a year. Against 3 trillion, it seems trivial. There are places where there are more trees now than there were 100 years ago, which makes things seem to look good. Same way the violently cold weather outbursts allow people to believe global warming is a big hoax.

The fish in the ocean have also not seen any signs of sustainability. People like to use percentages instead of actual numbers. For example, take the fish populations in the oceans. Ten percent increase of the original 100 percent is 10 percent, a real increase. Tern percent of the remaining 10 percent is 1 percent of the original 100 percent. And yet that kind of progress is thought to be a sign of it being okay to continue a supposedly sustainable effort to continue harvesting the fish. It's really very simple, we drew off the capital of the natural world instead of the interest, never replacing any of it, and now a huge balloon payment is due. Mother Nature doesn't take cash or credit. Ironically she believes in rapid drastic changes and practices those procedures quite rigorously.
 

Dave

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I believe there weren't enough people to dent the natural replenishment of the natural world we daily turn into cinders until recently, say the past 500-1,000 years. Perhaps 500 million to a billion people compared to the 8 billion and counting we have now.
I'm not allowed to talk politics and I am concerned to take the thread away from the OP, but in this whole huge subject, that is the elephant in the room that very few are willing to talk seriously about. None of any of the problems that we currently face today can be solved unless we first get a handle on population growth. It is a subject that science fiction authors such as Harry Harrison wrote about since the 1950's and nothing has changed in that time. However, our whole global capitalist economy demands further growth, we are very attached to it, and as few would vote for the alternatives they just don't become options. I don't see any immediate solutions. In the past technology has been able to rescue us, has kept pace and has been able to allow our species to survive against the odds, but there are finite upper limits to natural resources that no amount of technology can overcome. Also, what good is it if humans survive but we are living on a wasted, rubbish-strewn, shell of a planet, devoid of any biodiversity, and living without any quality of life.

When I was at school and computers in schools were very new my biology teacher obtained a copy of the program that showed bacteria colonies growing (I think it was called LIFE but Google isn't helping me today.) You set the conditions and the bacteria grew by cell division x2 each cycle. It was a very simple thing but it showed the exponential increases possible just from a single cell. Then the colony always reached a point where the waste products started to have a detrimental effect on the environmental conditions and cells started to die. Eventually, they almost all died off. That Petri dish is our Earth.
 

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