News FocusGeology

An Epoch Debate

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Science  07 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6052, pp. 32-37
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6052.32

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To geologists, a stripe of black rock abutting a pale gray section of cliff in Dob's Linn gorge in the United Kingdom represents one of the major transitions in Earth's history, the boundary between the Ordovician and Silurian periods. Now, scientists say, the planet has crossed another geological boundary, a transformation that will leave its own signature stripe in the rocks—and humans are the changemakers. An influential group of geologists, ecologists, and biologists argue that humans have so changed the planet that it is entering another phase of geological time, called the Anthropocene, "the Age of Man." Humanity, they contend, can be considered a geophysical force on a par with supervolcanoes, asteroid impacts, or the kinds of tectonic shift that led to the massive glaciation of the Ordovician. The Anthropocene debate is continuing next week at the 2011 Geological Society of America conference.