Earth 'Entering New Age Of Geological Time'
By Murray Wardrop
28 March, 2010
Humans have wrought such vast and unprecedented changes on the planet that we may be ushering in a new period of geological history.
Through pollution, population growth, urbanisation, travel, mining and use of fossil fuels we have altered the planet in ways which will be felt for millions of years, experts believe.
It is feared that the damage mankind has inflicted will lead to the sixth largest mass extinction in Earth's history with thousands of plants and animals being wiped out.
The new epoch, called the Anthropocene - meaning new man - would be the first period of geological time shaped by the action of a single species.
Although the term has been in informal use among scientists for more than a decade, it is now under consideration as an official term.
A new working group of experts has now been established to gather all the evidence which would support recognising it as the successor to the current Holocene epoch.
It will consider changes human activities have brought to Earth's biodiversity and rock structure as well as the impact of factors including pollution and mineral extraction.
It is hoped that within three years, their case will be presented to the International Union of Geological Sciences, which would decide whether the transition to a new epoch has been made.
The theory has been proposed by a group of scientists, including Paul Crutzen, the Nobel Prize-winning atmospheric chemist, in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.
They conclude: "The Anthropocene represents a new phase in the history of both humankind and of the Earth, when natural forces and human forces became intertwined, so that the fate of one determines the fate of the other. Geologically, this is a remarkable episode in the history of this planet."
Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, of the University of Leicester, co-author of the paper, added: "It is suggested that we are in the train of producing a catastrophic mass extinction to rival the five previous great losses of species and organisms in Earth's geological past."
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