Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on June 27, 2016

Bookmark and Share

Six Signs That We’ve Entered a New Geologic Age

Six Signs That We’ve Entered a New Geologic Age thumbnail

We’ve heard a lot of buzz recently about the Anthropocene, the geologic epoch of man and machine. Does it exist? Are we in it right now? Later this summer, the International Stratigraphic Union will convene and attempt to answer these weighty questions.

Deciding whether or not we’ve entered a new chapter in geologic history isn’t going to be easy. Normally, scientists use shifting rock layers, fossils, and geochemical evidence to place new ticks on the geologic scale. But the fingerprints of industrial society are not yet buried within sedimentary strata—they’re all around us. We’re creating them right now. To figure out if humanity has truly become a geologic force of nature, we need to be sure that our traces will persist long after we’re gone.

Here are six pieces of evidence scientists are considering.


If there’s one thing modern humans are great at at producing, it’s garbage. From CD-ROMs to styrofoam cups to e-waste, we’re quickly filling up our landfills, our oceans, and even our solar neighborhood with stuff that doesn’t decompose. So-called “technofossils” are likely to remain on Earth for thousands to millions of years, even if we humans don’t survive the century.

An e-waste dismantling junkyard. Image: EarthFix/Flickr

While eyesores like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch offer striking evidence of our trash problem, the big technofossil beds of the future will come in the form of landfills, according to a recent paper in the journal Anthropocene:

Over geological timescales, the plastics buried in landfill sites may be in part a ‘time-bomb’ of plastic release. Some landfills, in low ground in tectonically subsiding areas, will simply be buried by more strata, to be fossilized as palaeontological middens. Where landfills are eroded, though, they will begin releasing their debris, including plastic, into the sedimentary cycle.

As bleak as it sounds, when alien archaeologists excavate society’s remains in the distant future, they may assume that shopping bags, not humans, were the dominant life form on our planet.

Actual Fossils

Plastic legacy aside, the age of humans will be marked by dramatic changes to the natural fossil record. For starters, there’s us. The human population has grown exponentially since the start of the industrial revolution, from roughly a billion people at the turn of the 19th century to more than seven billion today. Another four billion of us could be added to the world population by the end of this century. And humans haven’t risen to global dominance alone: we’ve brought along our domestic animals, including cows, pigs, sheep, cats, and dogs. In a geologic blink, the fossil record will be overtaken by a handful of two and four-legged mammals.

Humans, there are a lot of us. Image: James Cridland/Flickr

To counter our meteoric rise, other species are fast disappearingas scientists verified last year, we’re in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction. Meanwhile, organisms that aren’t going extinct are being scrambled about the planet in new and unnatural ways—think the introduction of Cane toads to Australia, zebra mussels to Lake Michigan, or rabbits to basically everywhere. Global travel, climate change and urbanization have resulted in a planet-wide migration, with some species marching northward as the poles warm, others moving into cities to occupy new niches, and still others hitching a plane, train or boat to the far corners of the Earth. If the fossil record was a book, the Anthropocene chapter was attacked by a hyperactive five-year-old with scissors, crayons, and glitter glue.

Carbon Pollution

It’s no secret humans are burning fossil fuels and releasing tremendous quantities of carbon into the air—some 10 billion tons a year at last check-in. Carbon dioxide is warming our climate, but it’s also reshaping atmospheric chemistry in a way that’ll leave an indelible mark, especially when you stack it alongside all the nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons and other industrial pollutants we’re pumping skyward.

Given tens of thousands of years, newly formed ice layers at the north and south poles will trap tiny samples of our modern atmosphere as air bubbles, offering the geochemists of future a taste of the smog-filled skies of yesteryear. That is, unless we burn all of our fossil fuels and melt away the evidence.

Nitrogen Fertilizer

Agriculture has been reshaping our planet for the past ten thousand years, but all previous agrarian achievements pale in comparison to the technological advances of the mid 20th century. One of those, the so-called “Haber-Bosch” process, radically transformed the way we feed ourselves and our planet. Developed by the German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch, the process uses high pressure and heat to convert atmospheric nitrogen (the inert gas N2) into ammonia fertilizer, a feat that was previously only possible with the aid of “nitrogen fixing” bacteria. Suddenly, fertilizer was fast-acting and inexpensive, and farmers could apply it liberally to their fields. Crop yields boomed.

Image: Wikimedia

The most obvious consequence of Haber-Bosch—enabling the human population to double again and again—overshadows the more insidious impact of all that extra nitrogen on our biosphere. Overspill from fertilization has roughly doubled the amount of actively cycling nitrogen in our biosphere, which has caused some species to become weedy at the expense of others. For instance as fertilizer seeps into lakes, rivers, and coastal waters, it fuels vast algae blooms that soak up oxygen and choke out other forms of life. The sudden turbocharging of Earth’s nitrogen cycle will leave an indelible mark in the geochemistry and ecology of the Anthropocene.


One of the strangest ways humans are reshaping the planet right now has nothing to do with the Anthropocene at all—it has to do with the geologic epochs that came before. Humans are digging, drilling, mining, and blasting their way deep into our planet’s crust, through thousands of meters of sediment accumulated over hundreds of millions of years. No other species or natural process has ever done anything like this.

Image: Wikimedia

So-called “anthroturbation” may be the most permanent, and therefore truly geologic, scar that humans leave. As Jan Zalasiewicz, chair of the International Commission on Stratigraphy’s Anthropocene Working Group told me in 2014, “The only way these marks can go away is by coming to the surface and being eroded, or getting caught up in a continental collision, or some other tectonic activity. Any scenario for erasing them will take tens to hundreds of millions of years.”

Nuclear Weapons

For academics, a key point of debate is not whether the Anthropocene exists, but when exactly it began. Some argue for an early start date—say, the first evidence for a human-caused shift in atmospheric CO2, when Europeans migrated to the New World and proceeded to kill everybody. (This caused huge swaths of farmland to revert to forest.) Others say the proverbial “golden spike” should land in 1964.

The year 1964 was a big one for nuclear weapons testing—so big that it caused a dramatic uptick in the amount of radioactive carbon, or carbon-14, in our atmosphere. The extra carbon-14 worked its way into the food chain and the biosphere, from plants to animals to humans to soil. If you lived on Earth during the 1960s or 70s, you contain an indelible trace of the Cold War in your bones—and it might literally herald the dawn of a new age.

Defining a new geologic age—especially one as weird as the Anthropocene—won’t be easy. Despite all the evidence that seems to point toward a new epoch, there’s still considerable academic debate, particularly on the matter of whether the Anthropocene has begun. What if the biggest changes to our planet are yet to come? Should we really be rushing off to place this painfully brief moment of time all by its geologic lonesome? Are we too blinded by the present, too awestruck by our own participation in a planet-wide experiment, to put ourselves in the appropriate context? Perhaps.

Then again, to the best of our scientific knowledge, the present is like nothing the planet has ever seen. That alone makes the age of humans—however short-lived—geologically remarkable.


27 Comments on "Six Signs That We’ve Entered a New Geologic Age"

  1. Dustin Hoffman on Mon, 27th Jun 2016 8:16 pm 

    Homo consumptians are preforming a vital function in the next stage of evolutionary complexity. By creating vast otherwise lavatory chemical compounds that are unknown in nature, will provide the building blocks for the next age of advancement….depends on how one defines advance!

  2. makati1 on Mon, 27th Jun 2016 9:22 pm 

    Actually, in a hundred million years or so, ALL of this will be recycled into the center of the earth as the continents subside under each other. New continents will have formed and ALL traces of humanity will be gone. Melted in the layers of molten rock beneath the plates. In about 50 millions years, North America will collide with Asia and begin the subsidence. Interesting, isn’t it?

  3. onlooker on Mon, 27th Jun 2016 9:32 pm 

    Yes and this new geologic age that humans are responsible for is characterized by a level of destructiveness and disruption of Nature and its processes both in terms of speed and scale rarely seen if ever in the history of this planet. Quite a distinction.

  4. Go Speed Racer on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 1:48 am 

    The Anthropocene starts on the day of the first nuclear bomb blast, the Trinity test. Even the average pond frog knows this.

  5. Apneaman on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 2:35 am 

    How about 3 (more) signs that AGW is kicking the shit out of the economy

    East Texas farmers hurting from extreme weather changes

    Climate change threatens to sink Gulf of Maine fishing industry
    As waters warm, valuable species migrate and the fishing fleet shrinks.

    California wildfire ‘most destructive’ in county’s history

    I love the fishermen’s pretzel logic desperately trying to guess what the cause might be because AGW was ruled out in their tiny craniums on day one cause Rush said so.

    This tard gets special mention.

    “The warming stuff is a lot of baloney,” he said. “All that is is another scientist looking for a grant.”

    I guess he never stopped to think that once the fish are gone so are the scientists who study them and thus the grants. That whole grant money and greedy climate scientists was poorly thought out. C’mon the math skills required to be a physicist make the toughest business/econ 101 math look like grade school arithmetic. If all these scientists are so greedy they would have gone to Wharton or some other fancy CEO factory-school and got a masters in business in half the time it took them to get a PHD in physics and it would be a fucking cake walk for people that smart. They would have been recruited before graduation by all the heavy hitters and made more in their first decade of corporate work than an entire lifetime in science and then they would have really started earning. Poorly thought out and simple minded for the simple minded who fell for it- which is quite a large number of mouth breathers. It’s also very peculiar how their “follow the money” chants never apply to the most lucrative business of the last 150 years. Oil has an immunity clause because it’s under witness protection – yeah that’s it – free pass. Fishermen – just rednecks with water tractors instead.

  6. John D on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 9:14 am 

    Thousands of years from now, all that will be left are our granite counter tops. Future generations(if there are any) will wonder what the hole for the sink was, and speculate it was thecenter of some altar or for some ritual. LOL

  7. Lawfish1964 on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 9:50 am 

    The landfills of today are the mines of tomorrow. That stuff won’t be left there. When we run out of oil and other natural resources, we will begin mining landfills.

  8. PracticalMaina on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 9:56 am 

    Lawfish, I agree, ever noticed all of that free mylar in food packaging. Get a half dozen big bags of chips, turn them inside out and clean them, and you have the beginning of many survival items. Solar cooker, solar still, fire making uses, signaling uses, solar concentrating, emergency shelter infrared insulation ect.
    I love junk!

  9. Apneaman on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 1:36 pm 

    Previously unknown global ecological disaster discovered

    I thank the gods of science grant money for this new report – can’t get enough doom.

  10. PracticalMaina on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 2:29 pm 

    But I thought cheap fuel was all for the joe six pack, the one breathing in the toxic fumes of your wealth source.

  11. Apneaman on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 5:37 pm 

    The colourful algae is melting the Arctic glaciers.

    “Over one melting season, researchers say the algal blooms can lead to a 13 percent reduction of albedo (the ability of a surface to reflect sunlight).”

  12. goat1001 on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 6:11 pm 

    “Deciding whether or not we’ve entered a new chapter in geologic history isn’t going to be easy.” Really? I thought the extinction of a thousand species a day was some kind of indication i.e. smoking gun…that a sea-change is underway… When “they” look at the geologic record in the far future they will see a sixth mass extinction- the mark of industrial civilization!!!

  13. Apneaman on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 8:00 pm 

    Another bad self inflicted change in the works that will have major implications.

    Gigantic Gravity Waves to Mix Summer With Winter? Wrecked Jet Stream Now Runs From Pole-to-Pole

    “It’s as if global warming were ringing the Earth’s atmosphere like some great, cacophonous alarm bell. The upper level zonal winds are swinging wildly from record high positive anomalies to record low negative anomalies. Gravity waves — the kinds of big atmospheric waves that tend to move air from the Tropics all the way to the Poles and are powerful enough to cause the Caribbean Sea to ‘whistle’ in the satellite monitors — are growing larger. And the Jet Stream now has redefined all boundaries — flowing at times from the East Siberian Sea in the Arctic across the Equator and all the way south to West Antarctica.”

    “It’s the very picture of weather weirding due to climate change. Something that would absolutely not happen in a normal world. Something, that if it continues, basically threatens seasonal integrity.”

    “In the very recent past, scientists favored a view that such mixing between Hemispheres was not possible. But recent observations of zonal wind patterns in the Tropics have shown that the zonal winds are now starting to enter periods when they move in concert even as much more powerful than usual atmospheric wave generating patterns are starting to emerge. The result appears to be really enormous gravity waves that transfer heat from Equator to Pole even as cross Equator upper level air flows are enabled.”

    “…transfer heat from Equator to Pole…”

    The heat is chasing the cold – trying to equalize.

  14. makati1 on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 9:35 pm 

    Thanks for the ref, Ap.

    “All these observations combined point to a very serious concern that Polar warming is flattening the atmospheric slope from Equator to Pole to such an extent that an increasing violation of the Hemisphere to Hemisphere seasonal dividing line may be a new climate change related trend. And that’s a kind of weather weirding that we are not at all really prepared to deal with.”

    Maybe I should move my extinction date from 2100 to 2050? It seems that everything went from 33 1/3 RPM to 78 RPM overnight. (See an old timer to explain those numbers if you don’t know.)

  15. Apneaman on Tue, 28th Jun 2016 11:42 pm 

    mak, I’m old enough to have owned a number of record players, hundreds of records, cassettes, 8 track, 4-5 VCR’s and even a Beta Max. I don’t think I ever owned a record that was designed to play on 78 – I’m not that fucking old. We used the 78 setting for the “Chipmunks” effect from time to time.

    That quote, “In the very recent past, scientists favored a view that such mixing between Hemispheres was not possible.” is similar to the dozens of “faster than previously expected” quotes from scientists over the last 5-7 years. They were way too conservative about a bunch of stuff and now the ship is going down. No amount of scientific information would have made a difference for the humans and there was way more than enough for any genuine sapient species to have acted accordingly. It doesn’t matter if anyone believes the science, we are incapable of any other behavior than obsessive reward seeking – dopamine for everyone forever!

    I’m on top of this climate shit and I still have a hard time believing it’s happened so fast.

    Annual Average Extent 18—25 June

    “All in all this little chart illustrates how we are well on our way to the lowest year ever for Arctic sea ice extent:”

    “It may happen this very summer, first going lowest, lower than 2013, and then perhaps even going ice–free, in humanity’s first ever Blue Ocean event?

    Sea ice leaving the Arctic Ocean entirely in late summer could be the Brexit of the Arctic, throwing markets into a dangerous turmoil, as such a Blue Ocean event could mean our so–called Carbon Budget is gone forever. There’s no way we can stop global warming at 2C with an ice–free Arctic. Such an attempt to stay below 2C would close down all industry, shipping and aviation globally and crash every financial market. For the sea ice itself, it would surely mean longer and longer periods every summer would be ice–free for the years to come, trapping ever more insolation and heat in the Arctic Ocean. A strong self–reinforcing feedback, rendering every last human attempt to control global warming more or less futile.”

  16. Go Speed Racer on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 1:05 am 

    To people who think landfills are the resources of tomorrow. U are wrong. The stuff had to be recycled NOW, before it went into the dump. Once it is in the dump, liquid immersion, severe corrosion, and general entanglement and liquification will make that stuff so useless it will be well beyond digging thru.

    I mean, use your brain. Can you recycle a shiny clean freshly emptied soda pop can? Of course you can. But what if its been buried in your backyard for 5 years, and it’s full of rocks and dirt and corroded halfway gone? You’d spend half an hour cleaning it out, and it would still be none-too-worthy of going into the smelter pot.

    However, it could have been recycled right NOW, the stream of trash, and appliances recycled with disassembly methods by people who would be paid to sort thru trash.

    The evil rich people won’t allow such a process. It could have been recycled now, but it cannot be recycled later.

    I do real recycling. Not for money, you can’t make a penny doing it. I do it just as a side hobby to save the planet. In the last 3 weeks, I recycled a clothes dryer, and 3 10-speed bicycles. The thing is, you have to get back to metal types, such as iron, aluminum, brass, and this is DISASSEMBLY. I did it. You didn’t.

    And people who think you can do all that after it has been landfilled, are very wrong. You can scarcely do it when its in clean condition, it takes many hours.

  17. PRacticalMaina on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 8:16 am 

    GSR, you are right that we need to recycle now, but everyday we are breaking records to the amount of material we are wasting, IMHO, therefore, there will be plenty of fresh dumpsters to dive at the end.

  18. GregT on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 10:07 am 

    “there will be plenty of fresh dumpsters to dive at the end.”

    Plenty of dumpster diving going on these days already. As the economy continues to wind down, more and more will find gainful employment in this growing “industry”.

  19. freak on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 1:10 pm 

    Very Interesting Jet Stream Crosses Equator which is unprecedented.

    The jet stream in the Northern Hemisphere has crossed the equator and joined up with the jet stream in the Southern Hemisphere. This is new behaviour, and indicates that climate system mayhem is ongoing.

  20. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 2:42 pm 

    California: Fires Burn at “Exponential Rates” Amid Blistering Heat Wave and 5-Year Drought

  21. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 2:44 pm 

    California wildfire ‘most destructive’ in county history

    The fire was the most damaging blaze in California, but it’s just one of many burning large swaths of the arid West during hot weather.

  22. PRacticalMaina on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 2:47 pm 

    Good thing they found those extra aquifers, so they can squander it saving some ahole actor types mcmansion.

  23. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 2:48 pm 

    As peatlands dry out from climate change, wildfire risk increases
    ‘Megafires’ result from severe drying, says McMaster researcher

    “But when dried, the peatlands are a tinderbox — and a new study says the latter is becoming more and more common as the climate warms.

    “Fire risk is going to become greater,” says researcher Mike Waddington of McMaster University.

    “It’ll burn more often, the area burned will increase, but most importantly is the severity of that burning.””

  24. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 10:08 pm 

    ‘Unprecedented’: Scientists declare ‘global climate emergency’ after jet stream crosses equator

  25. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 10:09 pm 

    NZ feeling the heat as 2016 shapes up to be record-breaker

    “Scientists are warning New Zealand’s record-breaking temperatures are causing a surge in the numbers of agricultural pests and ongoing drought, with predictions the problem is set to get worse.”

  26. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 10:11 pm 

    Each 1 Degree C We Warm the Planet adds 7% increase in Moisture.

    “Personally I disagree with the suggestion that it will take until the magic 2100 for our locked in 8C temperature rise. Factor in the myriad of feedback loops and we could be there in a few decades,not that humans will survive that long to bare witness.

    Such a rise would have a devastating impact on life on Earth: ‘Climate Outlook May be Worse than Feared.’

    “The amount of water vapor in the atmosphere exists in direct relation to the temperature. If you increase the temperature, more water evaporates and becomes vapor, and vice versa. So when something else causes a temperature increase (such as extra CO2 from fossil fuels), more water evaporates. Then, since water vapor is a green house gas, this additional water vapor causes the temperature to go up even further—a positive feedback.”

  27. Apneaman on Wed, 29th Jun 2016 10:13 pm 

    Guatemala drought leaves hundreds of thousands hungry
    Ever since 2012, the rains have been weak and insufficient.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *