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Pinpointing the Origins of the Anthropocene

Humans have been shaped by our environments, and now, we shape them in return. It’s not just that we intentionally alter landscapes, or that our emissions impact the air.

By-products of human civilization are becoming part of the Earth itself. The chemical signatures of industry have created a new unit of geologic time. Radiation and emissions are integrating into the planet’s soils, sediments and rocks.

The research team puts a boat in the water at Crawford Lake.

But that’s not exactly new. In Roman times, lead smelting emissions were blowing across the Atlantic and into the geological record of Canada’s north. The Industrial Revolution upped the ante, and by the time widespread nuclear testing rolled out in 1950, trace amounts radiation were dusting the entire planet.

Geologists call this age the Anthropocene – the age of humans. In a discipline where time is often measured in millions or billions of years, they trace its origins to 1950, barely long enough ago to qualify for a seniors discount.

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