The Anthropocene Epoch is a name under consideration to describe our present time in geological history. The title was chosen to reflect the great influence of human activities on the modern environment, but will it be accepted by an official body in charge of assigning such names?
The Holocene epoch began 11,700 years ago, and continues to the current day. But, scientists will soon meet to decide whether or not to recommend naming a new time period in order to reflect the domination of mankind over the Earth.
A group including climatologists, geologists, ecological researchers and an expert in international law will all meet in Berlin on October 23 and 24 to discuss the question of assigning a new epoch to our current time. Each of the members have been studying the issue since 2009, but this is the first time the working group has met in person.
The Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) is likely to recommend a change, although details of what the group will suggest remains unknown.
"It is clear that, though we have differences about when it starts, it seems as a group that we were quite happy to say we are in the Anthropocene," Colin Waters of the British Geological Society, and secretary for the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy, said.
The International Geological Congress is the body charged with officially naming the geological periods of the Earth. Epochs are the middle ground between the long-scale periods and ages, the shortest of the divisions. These are determined through the study of fossils and other geological evidence. In August 2016, the working group will report their recommendations to the group responsible for making a final decision.
Members of the group include Matt Edgeworth from the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, at the University of Leicester, and Michael Ellis, science director of the British Geological Survey's Climate and Landscape Change Research Group.
The Holocene epoch, a segment of the Quaternary Period, began as the last ice age was ending, starting a warming period. Humans came to prominence during that period, after constructing the world's first cities. The oldest-known pyramids were constructed just 4,600 years ago.
"The 'Anthropocene' is a term widely used... to denote the present time interval, in which many geologically significant conditions and processes are profoundly altered by human activities. These include changes in: erosion and sediment transport associated with a variety of anthropogenic processes, including colonization, agriculture, urbanization and global warming," the working group reported on its Web page.