Some of the names given to periods of geological time are familiar.
The Jurassic, for example, immediately brings to mind dinosaurs and a certain film favourite of ours (let’s not quibble about how few of those dinosaurs were actually FROM the Jurassic..)
The Cretaceous says dinosaurs, chalk and lots of extinctions. The Pleistocene, wolly mammoths and glaciers. The Cambrian, a very very long time ago.
Others are more obscure. Who but the most committed of palaeontologists has ever heard of the Gelasian, the Bajocian or the Serpukhovian?
How do geologists come up with these names? Historically, the units of time were often named for the locations of key stratigraphical sequeneces. That’s why there’s a particularly British flavour to the list – the Oxfordian, the Devonian, the Cambrian.
Now, such is the influence of humans on our climate that, for the first time, geologists are considering declaring a new segment of geological time – one caused by human activity.
Our newest Special Publication, ‘A Stratigraphical Basis for the Anthropocene‘, summarises the evidence that we’re now living in a new geological epoch – one of our own making.
The word ‘Anthropocene’ was originally coined by ecologist Eugene F. Stoermer in the 1980s, and since popularised by Nobel Prize winning chemist Paul Crutzen.
“The new volume analyses the hurdles the Anthropocene will need to overcome if it is to be formalized by the geological establishment” says editor Dr Jan Zalasiewicz in a University of Leicester press release.
“There is genuine controversy here – for geologists to change the Geological Time Scale is a very, very big step. This time scale, over 4.5 billion years long, is the backbone of the science.”
If we are living in the Anthropocene, when did it start? Currently, we’re officially in the Holocene – an epoch which began at the end of the Pliestocene, 11,700 years ago, characterised by a stable, relatively warm climate. Some argue the Anthropocene began with the industrialisation of the nineteenth century; others, that it is a post war phenomenon, beginning not more than 70 years ago.
What do you think? Should we be establishing a new epoch? And what would you have called it?