By Upasana Bhattacharjee
Humans have left an indelible mark on the planet. Research suggests that the existence of as many as 208 minerals is linked exclusively to human activity, with crystals forming in locations as diverse as shipwrecks, mines and even in the storage at museums. This marks the return of discourse on the influence of humans on the planet.
Geologists label the period of time since the previous Ice Age as the Holocene. Support for introducing a new classification, called the Anthropocene Epoch, has been growing in recent times. Human activities have altered the trajectory of various elements, often resulting in irreversible activities, such as climate change and the extinction of species. The argument to recognise this geological epoch as that of the Anthropocene, succeeding the Holocene, will offer the necessary attention to the onus that falls on humans for being the sole species responsible for such substantial impact on the environment.
A profusion like none before
Edward Grew is a Research professor at the School of Earth and Climate Sciences. In collaboration with Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science, as well as Marcus Origlieri and Robert Downs from the University of Arizona, Professor Grew has been instrumental in the detection and identification of the discussed minerals. While they have predominantly been found in nature, the conditions for their existence can find roots traced back to human-mediated activities – activities that have altered conditions on the planet and made their presence possible.
In some cases, elements formed along the walls of mines due to the unnaturally high levels of humidity. Others flourished where bronze and brass artefacts sunk deep into the sea. Some industrial processes have led to their development on the inner lining of smelters and geothermal pipelinesn. Broadly speaking, from altering the flow of water to adjusting exposure to air, there is a long list of new man-mediated minerals today.
Dramatic changes are said to be underway. The mentioned minerals shall be present in the surroundings of cities and will come to interact and react with other minerals. The last time we saw such development was during the Great Oxidation Event – a significant rise in the level of oxygen in our environment resulted in the formation of new minerals and their oxide versions – and it spanned across two billion years. More recent human events have trumped the Great Oxidation Event as the velocity of the progress has been remarkable.
Step into a new epoch
Here we stand today, with assertion for the Anthropocene finding a new basis. Many scientists already believe that the Anthropocene epoch began on July 16, 1945, with the detonation of the first atomic bomb. Others suggest that tracing its precise birth isn’t a simple affair. While it has formally been accepted that we have lived in the Holocene epoch for the past 11,700 years, a growing sentiment recognises the Anthropocene geological epoch.
It is in light of discoveries such as these that the repercussions of the human race reveal itself. A single species, among millions sharing the same space. A more cautious approach is called for, as these choices aggregate towards changes beyond recall. Regardless of whether the Anthropocene epoch is formally recognised or not, its significance deserves to get due credit.
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