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Researchers Propose Earth's 'Anthropocene' Age Began With Atomic Bomb Test

Researchers Propose Earth s Anthropocene Age of Humans Began With Fallout and Plastics NYTimes com


Scientists identify July 16, 1945, as key time boundary in Earth history

An international group of scientists has proposed the date of the dawn of a new geological age in Earth history – the Age of the Anthropocene.

Humans are having such a marked impact on the Earth that they are changing its geology, creating new and distinctive strata that will persist far into the future. This is the idea behind the Anthropocene, a new epoch in Earth history proposed by the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen just 15 years ago. Since then the idea has spread widely through both the sciences and humanities.

But if the Anthropocene is to be a geological epoch – when should it begin? Humans have long affected the environment, and ideas as to when the Anthropocene might start range from the thousands of years ago with the dawn of agriculture, to the Industrial Revolution – and even to the future (for the greatest human-made changes could still be to come).

Now, members of the international working group formally analyzing the Anthropocene suggest that the key turning point happened in the mid-twentieth century. This was when humans did not just leave traces of their actions, but began to alter the whole Earth system. There was a ‘Great Acceleration’ of population, of carbon emissions, of species invasions and extinctions, of earth moving, of the production of concrete, plastics and metals.

It included the start, too, of the nuclear age, when artificial radionuclides were scattered across the Earth, from the poles to the Equator, to be leave a detectable signal in modern strata virtually everywhere.

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That feeling of Great Acceleration is accompanied by both feelings of anxiety and feelings of excitement.

Anxiety that perhaps our meddling has irreversible bad consequences. 

Excitement because we're making true breakthroughs in science, medicine, and space exploration. 

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