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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 12:08 PM
Original message
Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man
I invite you to take a moment of respite from Fukushima-watching. Zoom far out into the future with Elizabeth Kolbert and her stratigraphers, and contemplate what sort of long-term mark we humans will leave on the planet. Hint - it ain't cesium...

Enter the Anthropocene—Age of Man

Stratigraphers like Zalasiewicz are, as a rule, hard to impress. Their job is to piece together Earth's history from clues that can be coaxed out of layers of rock millions of years after the fact. They take the long view—the extremely long view—of events, only the most violent of which are likely to leave behind clear, lasting signals. It's those events that mark the crucial episodes in the planet's 4.5-billion-year story, the turning points that divide it into comprehensible chapters.

So it's disconcerting to learn that many stratigraphers have come to believe that we are such an event—that human beings have so altered the planet in just the past century or two that we've ushered in a new epoch: the Anthropocene. Standing in the smirr, I ask Zalasiewicz what he thinks this epoch will look like to the geologists of the distant future, whoever or whatever they may be. Will the transition be a moderate one, like dozens of others that appear in the record, or will it show up as a sharp band in which very bad things happened—like the mass extinction at the end of the Ordovician?

Probably the most significant change, from a geologic perspective, is one that's invisible to us—the change in the composition of the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide emissions are colorless, odorless, and in an immediate sense, harmless. But their warming effects could easily push global temperatures to levels that have not been seen for millions of years. Some plants and animals are already shifting their ranges toward the Poles, and those shifts will leave traces in the fossil record. Some species will not survive the warming at all. Meanwhile rising temperatures could eventually raise sea levels 20 feet or more.

Long after our cars, cities, and factories have turned to dust, the consequences of burning billions of tons' worth of coal and oil are likely to be clearly discernible. As carbon dioxide warms the planet, it also seeps into the oceans and acidifies them. Sometime this century they may become acidified to the point that corals can no longer construct reefs, which would register in the geologic record as a "reef gap." Reef gaps have marked each of the past five major mass extinctions. The most recent one, which is believed to have been caused by the impact of an asteroid, took place 65 million years ago, at the end of the Cretaceous period; it eliminated not just the dinosaurs, but also the plesiosaurs, pterosaurs, and ammonites. The scale of what's happening now to the oceans is, by many accounts, unmatched since then. To future geologists, Zalasiewicz says, our impact may look as sudden and profound as that of an asteroid.
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dgibby Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 12:59 PM
Response to Original message
1. Worst environmental disaster to ever happen to the planet. n/t
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 01:23 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. Tool monkeys rule!
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 01:30 PM by GliderGuider
Tool Monkeys™ - Decimating planets Faster Than Expected for over 10,000 years.
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stuntcat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-08-11 01:00 PM
Response to Reply #2
10. it's our HUGE braaaaaiins
but our hearts didn't swell up as fast as our minds, oh well :shrug: too bad for the rest of the animals.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-08-11 01:10 PM
Response to Reply #10
11. Twice too clever, not half wise enough...
:nopity:
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cpompilo Donating Member (125 posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 01:34 PM
Response to Original message
3. I think a global layer of plastic will be a tell tale sign of our
environmental presence. We may not survive, but our plastic will.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 01:43 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. Oddly enough, it won't.
Edited on Tue Apr-05-11 01:44 PM by GliderGuider
We think "Plastic is forever", but on geological time scales it breaks down almost instantly. Apparently even glass bottles only last a million years or so. We just don't build things to last like Mother Nature does.
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phantom power Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 01:49 PM
Response to Original message
5. I have a plan.
A new plan. Not the one about the fifty cubic kilometers of limes.

No, my new plan is The Human Fossilisation Movement. We set up skeletons of humans, and actually why not other animals too, so that they have a chance of fossilization that is far higher than the background rate. After all, one thing we tool monkeys did happen to work out is what kinds of conditions are good for fossilisation.

We should also arrange them in improbably-perfect poses. It will be the practical joke with the longest setup in the history of planet earth. The land squid paleontologists won't know what the hell to think!
:rofl:
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 02:29 PM
Response to Reply #5
6. You are one seriously bent individual
Let's do it. I'll bring the sediment, you find us some bones.
:rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl: :rofl:
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phantom power Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Apr-05-11 03:21 PM
Response to Reply #6
7. The more I think about this, the better I like it.
We tool-monkeys are always into coming up with new and interesting ways to ceremonially dispose of our carcasses. This idea has that hip novelty feel to it, and it even would stroke some people's ego -- "your opportunity to immortalize your remains in the fossil record!"

You just have to identify some places where sediment is being deposited, and geology suggests are likely to remain that way for a (geologic) while. Some place reasonably far from a subduction zone, for maximum longevity. You could take a stab at predicting places where uplift will eventually occur a mega-year or so downstream, to get opportunities for exposure. You might even put the remains in some kind of box that will reduce the skeletal distortion over time.

I think people might pay for this. I would pay for this. I just have to figure out how to explain it to my wife.

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Nihil Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Apr-06-11 04:54 AM
Response to Reply #7
8. Ever read "Strata" by Terry Pratchett?


The camera zoomed in to an area halfway up the cliff, where some rock had been melted
out. There was a gantry and a few yellow-hatted workmen who shuffled out of camera
field, except for one who stood holding a measuring rod against Exhibit A and
grinning. Hi there, all you folks out there in Company Censure Tribunal Land.

‘A plesiosaur,’ said Kin. ‘All wrong for this stratum, but what the hell.’ The camera
floated over the half-excavated skeleton, focusing now on the distorted rectangles by
its side. Kin nodded. Now it was quite clear. The beast had been holding a placard.
She could just make out the wording.

‘“End Nuclear Testing Now’’,’ she said levelly.



:evilgrin:
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AtheistCrusader Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-08-11 09:38 AM
Response to Reply #5
9. Y-M-C-A
ahahahaha
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bhikkhu Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Apr-08-11 11:19 PM
Response to Original message
12. What happens after might be an Age
we're more like a boundary layer, like the K-T, only with an excess of hubris.
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