One Lake might best represent the Anthropocene

Brian G Turner

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I'm really surprised they're pushing for the 1950's date, because there's an argument that we could go back to the start of the Neolithic.

Btw, please don't copy/paste articles from other websites to chrons - we can get sued for copyright infringement. I've therefore removed the article.
 
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hitmouse

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I suppose they had to start somewhere. The large scale use of fossil fuels, and the resultant ash, starting in the 19th century would be another candidate.

There is a decent short piece on this in The Economist.

The point is that it is now possible to measure generalised changes in sediments worldwide for a number of indicators ( radioisotope byproducts of atomic tests, microplastics, etc) which will be detectable on a geological timescale.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I would say it started 500 years ago when increasing population numbers were using machines to exponentially amplify the power of the work they were able to do. There are signs of genetic changes in animals due to changing environments that started 100 years ago. The use of trees, without giving the Earth enough time to naturally replenish the losses, also dramatically increased as the wood was used for everything, not just burning to fuel an ever increasing population's needs.
 

CupofJoe

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The 1950s and I think 1950 itself is sometimes described as the beginning of history, by archaeologists.
Before that date there are extensive dendrochronology data sets from all over the world.
After that date radio carbon dating cannot usually be used because of atmospheric nuclear testing.
So they put a pin in the list and called it quits.
 

Cthulhu.Science

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With better technology, scientists are now identifying ways that people have been modifying the earth for thousands and thousands of years.

An interesting report I read came from the State of Hawaii Department of Agriculture. The introduction included a relatively thorough history of agriculture in Hawaii both pre- and post contact. One thing they noted that while post-contact mono-culture did modify the landscape dramatically and contact continues to bring vast numbers of invasive plants and animals, pre-contact Hawaii wasn't exactly an untouched tropical forest. Pre-contact -- stone age -- Hawaiians had transformed the geography dramatically, building fish ponds, irrigation for crops, permanent highways - that are still usable today. And also brought in several invasive species of plants and animals.

So, there is a comment in support of a longer Anthropocene.
 

Robert Zwilling

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"People were actively shaping the dirt in the Amazon for thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans" This dirt is easy to make so it is not hard to imagine that people were able to treat clay loaded Amazon dirt with a few easily accessible local ingredients to make the soil more productive for agricultural purposes. The soil is still being treated this way and the ancient soil is still productive and does not harm the rainforest.

The problem is that instead of using a thumb to cause the balance to tilt in the desired direction (good deeds done dirt cheap), one would need the Monty Python 16 ton weight to accomplish the task.

Most of the reasonable energy efficient practices were replaced by energy intensive practices that require a continuing profit to pay for the process to work.
 
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Brian G Turner

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And...apparently targeting a date of 1950 caused quite a ruckus within the research committee itself, with one member resigning in protest:
 

Robert Zwilling

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The problem with scientists is that they take their words too seriously. If they say such and such is the start of something, then it must be so, until someone comes along with some real evidence to show that something else happened first. People can't even agree on what the Anthropocene looks like nor what constitutes change. To use 1950 as a starting point is a very conservative move, probably was designed to make everyone happy because at that point it could said that something was happening.

Lots of groups are trying to find something that clearly shows the start of the Anthropocene. They are all right because they are all looking at the roots of a very big tree. The tree body is here to be plainly seen, but the root growth and tree rings are hidden and must be examined one at a time. Enter the 10,000 clueless (formerly blind but that's an insult)) men (men is still okay, wink, wink, nod, nod) who each have one piece of the puzzle.

Graphing the conversion of forested land to agriculturally converted land is just one way of seeing what happened. According to some, the world has lost one-third of its forest land in the past 10,000 years and half of that happened in the last 100 years. They are looking at the amount of trees that survived after being run down by glaciers in the last ice age and how much of that forest land is now farmland. Seems like they are forgetting that the glaciers mowed down a considerable number of trees, and while we certainly didn't cause the last ice age, that did reduce the number of trees just the same. Are we counting the trees mowed down by the glaciers as a start of the Anthropocene, well some folks aren't. Since we didn't do it, that doesn't count. As for myself I subscribe to the once upon a time idea that there once were 6 trillion trees and now there are only 3 trillion trees and the number is still shrinking. All that shade has to count for something. A house with half a roof is no good to anyone. The replanted forest lands, claimed to be signs of reforestation, of a single kind of tree that will be cut down at some point in the near future, counts as new forest land for some but not by others. I figure the trees need to left standing 100 years to be counted as new forest land. And for others, if there are no wolves preying on other animals amongst a host of other kinds of animals living in a forest with hundreds of different kinds of plants, then it never will be a forest.

You try to find out how much land has been converted to inhabitable real estate and that becomes an accounting nightmare. Just a fraction of a percentage of land is taken up by roads, while cities and homes take up only another two percent. The things is, the land the homes are on are dead as far as biodiversity goes. A green lawn, or even a stand of trees does not count as biodiversified land. So that 2 percent value is a lot higher in some people's eyes while still perfectly accurate in other people's eyes. Instead of looking at the layers underneath the soil, perhaps what is making those layers on the surface are just as important.

The roarway cutting fields (roads) are not the simple less than a fraction of a percentage of the land that they seem to be. That value is the static no load value. Put traffic on those roads and that magnifies the impact a million times. Put a busy road between a pond with turtles in it, and a elevated hillside of dry, sandy, pebbly dirt facing the morning sun and the turtles will vanish over time as they try to lay their eggs where they always did. Adult turtles get hit going both ways, the young get hit in their first moments of life, with another crush of the apple on their repeat trips to the ancestral egg laying territory.

So what did happen in the 1950"s? The Earth started plowing into gigantic plastic asteroids. Plastic of one one sort or another had been around for 100 years but in the 1950's it saw exponential production growth. All the plastic ever made always seeks to fall apart into smaller and smaller pieces as time goes on. Its made in yearly batches and released all around the world. If it was a real plastic asteroid, there would be fine layers of plastic under the surface, like the iridium rich layers of clay found underground that was deposited by huge asteroids striking the Earth. But the plastic is distributed throughout the dirt beneath our feet because it is so light weight, it achieves anti gravity status as it breaks up into smaller and smaller pieces, and then just floats around and around. At home in the air or in the dirt. The thing is, getting hit by huge plastic asteroids sounds more dramatic than just cruising through a plastic wonderland.
 

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The problem (and the reason that the scientists are most likely arguing) is not because "they take their words too seriously," whatever that's supposed to mean. Rather, it is something that is known as "Shifting Baseline Syndrome." Shifting baseline syndrome (SBS) describes a gradual change in the accepted norms for the condition of the natural environment due to lack of past information or lack of experience of past conditions. I understand that the 1950 baseline has all the advantages of radioactive markers, but it is still a very arbitrary date to use when looking at the degradation of an environment due to the influence of man. Consequences of SBS include an increased tolerance for progressive environmental degradation, changes in people's expectations as to what is a desirable (worth protecting) state of the natural environment, and the establishment and use of inappropriate baselines for nature conservation, restoration and management.
 

Cthulhu.Science

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To throw out a layperson's argument. Wouldn't a reasonable method be to project ourselves 10,000 or 100,000 years into the future and ask, "what will archaeologists (or visiting space aliens) of that time be able to use as a marker?" We can identify trails in the forest and small ponds produced by regular elephant activity but nobody is suggesting an "elephantocene."

The release of radioactivity starting in 1945 and really rolling with the Bikini tests starting in 1946 creates a very distinct marker that affects the entire planet in ways that the ancient mines of Anatolia simply do not.
 

Dave

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Wouldn't a reasonable method be to project ourselves 10,000 or 100,000 years into the future and ask, "what will archaeologists (or visiting space aliens) of that time be able to use as a marker?"

It depends how far in the future you want to go as that is really a question of scale. Yes, for sure the release of rare radioactive elements into the atmosphere after 1945 will produce a very distinctive layer in sediments that will eventually become sedimentary rocks, and in millions of years time those sediments might be indistinguishable from Neolithic sediments except for that thin layer representing the time between 1945 and whenever we completely annihilate ourselves.

That isn't quite the point. I thought they are looking for some marker for a point in time that they can say characterises the start of the Anthropocene. I'm sorry, I've only skimmed the article itself but the title of the thread, and the comments I replied to were discussing that. There is much else that characterises the Anthropocene other than radioactive dust, and those things began much earlier in time - mass extinctions of animals due to over hunting, forest clearance, rising CO2 levels, dust and temperatures, and more recently plastics in soil and sediments, and Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and other 'forever chemicals' that have never existed before.

The Holocene, which ended with the retreat of the ice sheets after the last ice age, and Anthropocene are much shorter in length than earlier geological periods that lasted many millions of years, basically because they are closer in time to the present, and we therefore know more about them. We used to know very little about the period before the Cambrian, and so we just called everything before, the Precambrian. That's an enormous length of time, which we now know much more about today. So, yes these geological periods are very subjective and a little arbitrary, but they can be distinguished by changes in the fossil record and sediments. The Permian - Triassic boundary is now defined as the point at which a specific species of fossil first appeared, but that is also the point of a mass extinction, now thought to be the impact of a large meteorite which set off a period of volcanic activity, killed off most dinosaurs. It has been defined differently in the past and these definitions change as required. We just have a predisposition and a need to categorise all things.
 

Wayne Mack

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Wouldn't a reasonable method be to project ourselves 10,000 or 100,000 years into the future and ask, "what will archaeologists (or visiting space aliens) of that time be able to use as a marker?"
Why would it be better to guess what information might survive far into the future rather than use all of the available information to determine if a significant change has occurred?
 

Cthulhu.Science

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Why would it be better to guess what information might survive far into the future rather than use all of the available information to determine if a significant change has occurred?
The question is "what is significant?"

Earth is constantly changing for lots of reasons. All the other "pocenes" are largely defined by catastrophes that permanently changed the planet. The 10,000 year argument comes from the ability to find an archeological record. Here is a 10,000 year old cave painting thus mankind has changed something. If, next year, there is some sort of pandemic that wipes out all humanity but leaves everything else intact then in another 1,000 years there is a good chance that the arrogant question of "Anthropocene" will be mostly moot.

But isn't that the basic argument among the "great thinkers" thinking about this?

A. We can ignore the way that birds have spread seeds around the world over the last several Millenia -- but people moving things around the last couple thousand years is really important. - 10,000 years.

B. The only thing that is important is the changes that permanent on a geologic scale, and absolutely unique to human activity with no equivalent among all the other natural actions taking place around us. - 100 years.
 

Venusian Broon

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Anton Petrov discussed this issue and I found his video interesting - adding in details on the number of changes humans have been making on the environment that have far reaching impacts. Off the top of my head: changes in species diversity, unnatural nuclear isotope contamination, and the adaption of animals and plants to urban ecosystems amongst others.


One thing that I think he didn't touch upon was plastic pollution which is also reaching into geological processes today.
 

Dave

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absolutely unique to human activity with no equivalent among all the other natural actions taking place around us. - 100 years.
Quite a little lot longer than that. 100 years for actually moving mountains to mine them maybe, but we've caused the extinction of many species (just not at the several a day level that it is up to now.) Then there is tree cover - we really went for it when we began building Navies of wooden ships, but we must have been chopping them down since we first left Africa. England is only about 10% tree cover now. Every kind of landscape that you see here is man-managed apart, from oak and beech forest (and alder and willow Carr though drainage means there isn't much of that). That includes grasslands and scrub where our domestic animals roam. Did you know that there are more domestic farmed mammals on Earth than wild mammals?
 

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