Is humanity launching a new geological age on the Earth?
The hand of humanity on the surface of the continent is geological in its sheer scale and its imprint will remain for millions of years. Through mining and quarrying, we shift billions more tonnes rock and sediment annually than all of the planet’s great rivers and glaciers combined. We are creating new strata in ways mother Nature never intended. By turning 40% of the land from wild habitat to food production and then discovering how to turn the atmosphere’s nitrogen into synthetic fertiliser, we’ve become the biggest thing to happen to the whole planet’s nitrogen cycle in 2 billion years. That’s not only causing immediate and serious environmental problems such as dead zones in coastal areas and the acceleration of climate change, our dirty and nitrogenous activities will be preserved in the rocks of the future geological record for posterity. Our sedimentary and geochemical signals are exactly the kind geologists use to mark where one period of Earth history ends and another begins.
Presented by Gaia Vince Produced by Andrew Luck-Baker
Are humans creating a new geological epoch through climate change and fossil fuels?
In this part of her journey into the Anthropocene, Gaia Vince explores how fossil fuel burning will leave enduring marks in geological record forming on the Earth in current times. Climate change and ocean acidification are in the process of transforming the planet on such a scale that humanity has shifted Earth history into a new geological epoch. Millions of years from now, scientists will be able to read the rocks forming now and see that something profound and unprecedently rapid – from sea level rise to dissolving coral reefs. Drawing from similar episodes in Earth history, leading geoscientists warn of a global blanket of oxygen-starved muds, extinctions of much marine life and a sea level 20 metres higher than today’s.
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What might remain of the world’s cities and people, millions of years from now?
Gaia Vince concludes her journey through the geological age humans have launched. After climate change and mass extinction, she now explores moves how the world’s cities and manufactured artefacts (from mobile phones to plastic bottles) might become ‘fossilised’ and incorporated into the geological record. Some are bound to survive in crushed form for the rest of the Earth’s existence. Any distant-future geologist would recognise them as strange features unique in the planet’s 4 billion year rock record: chaotic rock layers preserving urban rubble and underground tunnels - mudstones unnaturally rich in zinc, cadmium and mercury – and the occasional crushed mobile phone or plastic bottle transformed from polymer to delicate coal. These rocks and artificial ‘fossils’ will be evidence of a planetary shift into the new time period, which today’s geologists call the Anthropocene.