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Environment

#45: Have Humans Left 
a Permanent Scar on the 
Geologic Record

The Anthropocene is a man-made era, an increasingly vocal group of scientists holds.

By Katie PalmerDecember 22, 2011 6:00 AM

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Geology textbooks will tell you that we are now 12,000 years into the Holocene Epoch, a time marked by violent geologic upheavals due to retreating glaciers and surging sea levels. But an increasingly vocal group of scientists argue that the textbooks are wrong. The Holocene Epoch, they believe, ended with the Industrial Revolution, when humans began dramatically reshaping the planet—enough to nudge it into its 42nd geologic epoch, unofficially dubbed the Anthropocene, or the Age of Men.

Last year, the concept of a human-induced geologic era made a media splash after the Royal Society in London published a series of papers organized by an international group trying to determine whether to sanctify the term. Proponents say that diverted rivers, industrial mining, deforestation, extinctions, and urbanization, among other human-driven phenomena, have made deep and permanent changes to the planet that will show up in sediment millions of years from now. Critics counter that such changes will eventually disappear.

In true geologic style, the debate is moving slowly. An official decision on the term won’t be made for at least five years.

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