Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Call It "The Anthropocene"? Not So Fast, Says Top Dino Doc!

From a story that has been getting a fair bit of play lately in climate change circles:

A rad­i­cal pro­pos­al is gain­ing ground among ge­ol­o­gists: We have en­tered a new ge­o­log­ic time pe­ri­od on Earth, thanks to ma­nkind’s own ac­ti­vi­ties.

We’ve so dras­tic­ally changed the land­scape through pol­lu­tion and in oth­er ways, it's time to ac­knowl­edge the new “ep­och” is here, a group of ge­ol­o­gists writes Jan. 25 in GSA To­day, a jour­nal of the Geo­lo­gi­cal So­ciety of Am­er­ica.

The new era would be called the An­thro­po­cene, from the Greek an­thro­pos (man) and ceno (new).

“The dom­i­nance of huma­ns has so phys­ic­ally changed Earth that there is in­creas­ingly less jus­tifica­t­ion for link­ing pre- and post-in­dus­tri­al­ized Earth with­in the same ep­och,” the re­search­ers said in an an­nounce­ment of their pro­pos­al.

While the proposal has been hailed in some places, at least a few scientists are skeptical.

Tom's Agin' It

Thomas R. Holtz is a vertebrate paleontologist and senior lecturer at the University of Maryland's Department of Geology. In print/tv stories about new dino discoveries, especially if they concern T-Rex or any of its kin, Tom often appears to provide commentary and analysis. He has a couple of problems with the new name:

1) If the function of the geochronology and chronostratigraphy is to correlate events (which it is), then we can already do so using newspapers etc. for the time frame considered...

(...which is to say, if I am interpreting Mr. Holtz correctly, that it is irrelevant to invoke rock scientists to do a job that can already accomplished by glancing at your standard print information sources.)

2) What they are describing (the effects of industrial human activity on the biosphere and chemosphere) has far more in common [with] short term stratigraphic events (PETM; the Chicxulub impact & sequelae; environmental effects at the Permo-Triassic; etc.) than it does epochs.

(Our effects on the planet are, in geological terms, ephemeral)

So is this "radical proposal" legit science, or a well-meaning attempt to accomplish a political end (raising awareness of mankind's effect on the surrounding environment, perhaps?) through the inappropriate application of scientific nomenclature?

Thanks to Dr. Holtz for letting me reprint comments from the dinolist.

Update: I asked Dr. Holtz about whether this proposed name change constituted a "politicization" of the science. This morning he responded:

By no means in this case!! They are 100% correct in pointing out that humansare now the major force for geological, atmospheric, biospheric, and chemospheric change, and that our ability to change these aspects of theworld greatly increased with the Industrial Revolution and the rapid increase in our population.Where I find that they are mistaken is that coining a new geologic time unit makes any sense in this context...

Personally, I think their timing is suspect, but...

4 comments:

sedum said...

That picture has what's left of my mind, boggled.

Anonymous said...

Hard to say what rifle he used to bag that T-Rex. Suffice to say it's likely one of the big 'African' calibres, maybe .458 Win Mag, or a Holland & Holland Express. Despite it's history as an elephant killler, the 7x57 Mauser is just way out of it's league for THAT class of big game.

Anonymous said...

should be called the Plasticine in honor of the bazzillion bags out there

Anonymous said...

Ah HA! It was MAN who wiped out the dinosaurs! There's "proof" right there!