Friday, July 20, 2018

The Meghalayan?

I actually posted “WTF is the Meghalayan?" on Twitter (here).  This in response to the IUGS’s announcement that the Holocene Epoch was officially divided into new stages.  The Meghalayan stage, after a location in NE India, being the youngest, so the one we are living in today.  Two thoughts came to my mind quickly: (1) how thin are we slicing geologic time?; and (2) what about the Anthropocene?

The relevant section is:

As the new chart shows, the Holocene is now sliced into three roughly 4000y stages.  That is short, faster than a geologic eye blink, with subtle boundaries.  Perhaps a little silly.  How small can relevant slices go, I wondered.  Jokingly, I proposed:
Kennedyan 1950-1963; Dallas
Lennonian 1964-1980; Abbey Road
Mandelaian 1981-2013; Robben Island
With time on my hands, I even identified the location of the required Golden Spike for each:

More seriously, I wondered about the status of an eventual Anthropocene in the official time chart.  A large working group has been debating this for several years ongoing, seemingly close to deciding on 1950 as the beginning of that time.  I favor the idea to emphasize the growing role of humans in the geologic system; for example, our large resource and land use, environmental change of ocean and atmosphere, etc. However, I'd place the start earlier, as impacting global colonization and industrial revolutions occurred 100s of years earlier and agricultural appropriations 1000s of years earlier.

I doubt agreement on a start will be easy, so instead I propose that we replace Holocene with Anthropocene (the Epoch of human emergence and dominance) and relegate Holocene as a Stage/Age (the last glacial deposits and a warming planet).  The huge changes of the past 150-200 years would be captured by the Modern Age, which is recognizable and already used informally.  My proposal below.

I have little idea what will come of this, but, hopefully, some fresh discussions on the meaning of the geologic time scale and the value of identifying geologic boundaries. The process of decision making is decadal, so I am not holding my breath.  I was surprised, however, that officials made another move.

Deposit of the Modern Age with plastic and aluminum "fossils" (Kobe, Japan).

A nice piece in The Atlantic, “There’s No Collusion”: Geology’s Timekeepers Are Feuding
-- “It’s a bit like Monty Python." offers some background on process and value, and may help this discussion along.  It includes my lighthearted characterization of the process as the "Ministry of Silly Cuts" (maybe not helping things along).  Enjoy this well-written The Atlantic piece and see that geologists are people too, with intrigue and tensions.

In the end, the discussion and decisions should revolve around recognizing the changes and challenges facing modern society as we have to rely on Earth for the foreseeable future, and the contributions of geology to our actions in a changing world.

Follow Ben van der Pluijm on Twitter as @vdpluijm; for example:

No comments: