Welcome to the “Anthrocene”

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In 1992, the science writer Andrew Revkin – in his book Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast coined the term “Anthrocene” to describe a new geological era dominated by the actions of humans.

More recently, he has quoted from his book: “We are entering an age that might someday be referred to as, say, the Anthrocene. After all, it is a geological age of our own making. The challenge now is to find a way to act that will make geologists of the future look upon this age as a remarkable time, a time in which a species began to take into account the long-term impact of its actions.” It now appears that like all respectable geological eras, the Anthrocene will be clearly identifiable as a distinct transition in the stratigraphy of the rocks that will make up that future world.

Over the past 200 years, the oceans have absorbed about half of the Carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere as a by-product of burning fossil fuels such as oil and gas. Researcher’s form the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US have been monitoring the acidifying effect that this additional Carbon dioxide is having on the oceans, and have found a detectable decline in pH. Studies by other groups indicate that even small changes in pH have detrimental consequences on species that build their shells out of calcium carbonate, and particularly those in cold water ecosystems, which appear to be sensitive to levels of acidification that could occur in the oceans over the next few decades. These organisms; including sea urchins, cold-water corals, coralline algae, and plankton known as pteropods, provide essential food and habitat to others, their demise could affect entire ocean ecosystems.

The calcite shells of these creatures are also the raw material from which limestone rock is formed, a fact that could result in the beginning of the “Anthrocene” era made visible to future geologists as a stratigraphic boundery, formed by reduced limestone formation, and a period of mass extinction in the oceans. It seems that humans could now be changing the very bed-rock of the planet on which they live; it is a very remarkable time indeed!

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7 Responses to Welcome to the “Anthrocene”

  1. matt says:

    The anthrocene period; the beginning of climate change induced warfare. And it’s already started … in Darfur.

  2. Dave On Fire says:

    I like the anthrocene idea, but I think it’s a bit outlandish to postulate an anthrocene age. Geological ages are stupendously long; the level of human activity that’s currently reshaping our environment can’t last more than a couple of centuries and probably a lot less (we either ‘outgrow’ it, or we’re destroyed by it). As such, it’s more appropriate to talk about an anthrocene event, that will stand out in geological history like the catastrophes that put an end to other prehistoric ages.

  3. Stephan says:

    Hi Dave On Fire,

    I kind of hope that we are here for the long run, so it might end up being an ‘age’; but for now I’m happy to accept that its start might be heralded with an ‘event’:)

    Stephan

  4. matt says:

    The author Stephan refers to in his post, Andrew Revkin, has contacted The Coffee House and particularly Stephan, to say how much he enjoyed Stephans post.

    He currently works for the New York Times, the parent newspaper of my bible The International Herald Tribune. Andrew offers further reading on the subject to which Stephan may refer to later.

    For the meantime check out the author at;

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/blog/post/PLNK2IC3FSRFJOJ1U

    Believe me, it’s worth your while.

  5. Dr. Francis Manns says:

    CO2 has risen and fallen before without disasterous pH consequences. Study geological history and come back when you have some ddep knowledge on the subject.

  6. matt says:

    Hello Francis

    (emailed)

    Re: https://environmentdebate.wordpress.com/2007/06/29/welcome-to-the-anthrocene/#comment-4937

    Your comment; brief, rude, no reference to your experience, a CV, or a website.

    Send us your CV to prove that you know what you’re talking about and then we may talk to you.

    Start acting like a Doctor, with manners, if indeed you are one.

    Matt

    Another comment found on the internet by the not so polite Francis;

    Dr. Francis T. Manns
    April 14th, 2007 at 6:56 pm
    ad hominem arguments are so ‘common’. Can’t the anthropogenic bunch come up with something new? Dick Lintzen’s academic credentials are above reproach. Get an education and come back.

    at… http://unitedcats.wordpress.com/2007/04/14/newsweeks-dr-lindzen-global-warming-skeptic/

    What a charming fellow. Obviously a jumped up little fraud. 🙂

    Ed’s note: It is suspected that the comment before this one has been posted by someone masquerading as Dr. Francis Manns and that this is happening throughout blogworld.

  7. Stephan says:

    Dear Fran Manns,
    In this blog I was pulling together some current theories based on some recent research data from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on detectable changes in ocean pH, and from a number of other researchers who have been studying the sensitivity of plankton and corals etc to pH change, with the latest data indicating that cold water species appear to be particularly sensitive to such changes and to the pH levels that are predicted for around 2050. This is not my supposition; it is based on the latest science litrature. As you will probably be aware, there have been long periods where there have been no coral reef type structures in the oceans, with one hypothesis to explain this being lower ocean pH as a result of higher CO2 levels. The ‘Anthrocene’ angle was being used as a journalistic tool to get the idea across in a more appealing way, if that offended you – well that’s a shame; but we can only include so much information in a blog without making it too long and boring for people to read, an approach that I notice you are not adverse to using in your own writings.
    By the way, I have been very impressed by your PowerPoint presentation “Global Warming and Science”, despite its omission of solid counter-arguments for more recent hypotheses on current data trends in climate change.
    Stephan

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