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How we’re leaving our mark on Earth’s geology

Image: Anthropocene sign
A 2013 art installation by Robin Wollston provides a Vegas look to the Anthropocene Age. (Credit: Robyn Woolston / Edge Hill University)

Millions of years from now, could alien geologists pinpoint a distinct time when humans changed the world? An international team of scientists says they could, by looking at the crushed-up remains of concrete, aluminum and plastics.

Further evidence would come in the form of dramatic spikes in radioactive fallout and fossil-fuel particulates, the researchers report in this week’s issue of the journal Science. And if environmental trends proceed the way most scientists think, the aliens also could document the signs of sea level rise and mass extinctions –perhaps including our own.

“All of this shows that there is an underlying reality to the Anthropocene concept,” the University of Leicester’s Jan Zalasiewicz, a co-author of the study, said in a news release.

Many scientists have said our current era should be called the Anthropocene Epoch rather than the Holocene Epoch, thanks to the ways in which human activity is drastically altering global ecosystems. The latest study lays out detailed evidence arguing that the Anthropocene Epoch is already geologically distinct, with its start dated to around 1950.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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