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A New Epoch in the Earth’s Timeline

Throughout the span of Earth's history, the planet has undergone profound transformations in its terrain, climate, and biodiversity, all of which are meticulously preserved beneath the surface.

Layers within the Earth's crust serve as a repository of clues documenting pivotal junctures that have profoundly reshaped the Earth, encompassing episodes like the ice age and impacts by asteroids. Utilizing this geological time scale, scientists have recently designated the Anthropocene as the forthcoming significant epoch.

In this visual representation, the Visual Capitalist team delves into the depths of Earth's geological timeline to unveil the transitions between epochs, shedding light on the specific occurrences that demarcate these distinct eras.

Anthropocene

Earth's geological past is categorized into numerous distinct units, spanning from expansive eons down to specific ages. The duration of each unit varies, shaped by significant occurrences, such as the disappearance and emergence of new species.

Imagine slicing a mountain in half—an intriguing tapestry of layers would come into view, each narrating the progression of time. These strata are distinguished by variations in chemical composition and the sediment amassed over the ages.

Certain divisions are particularly clear and extensively apparent in the geological record, earning them the moniker "golden spikes." These distinctive markers can encompass changes of climatic, magnetic, biological, or isotopic (chemical) characteristics.

The Earth's journey has encompassed numerous epochs, culminating in the contemporary Anthropocene era.

These periods span diverse epochs, such as the Early Devonian, initiating the emergence of initial shell organisms 400 million years ago, and the trio of Jurassic epochs, witnessing the ascendancy of dinosaurs as predominant land vertebrates.

For the past 11,700 years, we've resided in the Holocene epoch, a notably steady phase that facilitated the rise of human civilization. Yet, in the wake of millennia of human influence, this epoch is rapidly yielding to the arrival of the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene is characterized by a multitude of marks left on the Earth, such as the widespread dispersion of plastic particles and a conspicuous rise in carbon dioxide levels within sediments.

Epoch

Its start (MYA = Million Years Ago)

Anthropocene

70 Years Ago

Holocene

0.01 MYA

Pleistocene

2.58 MYA

Pliocene

5.33 MYA

Miocene

23.04 MYA

Oligocene

33.90 MYA

Eocene

56.00 MYA

Paleocene

66.00 MYA

Cretaceous

145.0 MYA

Jurassic

201.40 MYA

Triassic

251.90 MYA

Lopingian

259.50 MYA

Guadalupian

273.00 MYA

Cisuralian

300.00 MYA

Pennsylvanian

323.40 MYA

Mississippian

359.30 MYA

Devonian

419.00 MYA

Silurian

422.70 MYA

Ludlow

426.70 MYA

Wenlock

432.90 MYA

Llandovery

443.10 MYA

Ordovician

486.90 MYA

Furongian

497.00 MYA

Miaolingian

521.00 MYA

Terreneuvian

538.80 MYA

The most unequivocal indicator of this shift in the geological era, and the designated "golden spike" for the Anthropocene, is the presence of radioactive plutonium resulting from nuclear tests in the 1950s.

The best example has been discovered in the sediment of Ontario's Crawford Lake. This lake features two separate layers of water that remain distinct, causing settling sediments to accumulate in discernible strata at the lakebed across time.

Although the International Commission on Stratigraphy proclaimed the inception of the new epoch in July 2023, Crawford Lake's recognition as the epoch-defining site is still pending. If chosen, our planet will formally enter the Crawfordian Age of the Anthropocene.

To learn more about Anthropocene, have a look at the following books and movies:

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