Pros and cons of radioactive dating

It made the cover of But while the Anthropocene fad may wane, the judgment of stratigraphers will bear the test of time.

If the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the bureaucracy that rules on issues of geological time, decides that the world has entered an epoch dominated by man, the verdict will reverberate with a clamor matched by few academic findings. Zalasiewicz's working group has embarked on an exhaustive search to find the uniform signals that will remain embedded in the Earth for millions of years, after much of our world erodes.

It's not that stratigraphers want to fight a rear-guard action against the realities of human influence on the planet, added Whitney Autin, a geologist at the State University of New York, Brockport, who has criticized the Anthropocene's stratigraphic credentials. "When you bring it down to the nuances of how we practice our science, the requirements go up." Before there was the Anthropocene, there was the "Coca-Cola layer." Geologists have long joked about the traces left behind a million years in the future if humanity wiped itself out. The late Derek Ager once said that to study the stratigraphy of Alaska in the future, beer bottle caps could be an excellent guide.

It's great that it's raising environmental awareness, he said. But beyond a few intellectual misfits of the 19th and 20th centuries, most geologists demurred from formalizing their after-dinner chatter.

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Debates about the boundaries often turn political and bitter, and last forever, said Michael Ellis, head of climate change science at the British Geological Survey.

"I'm starting to think the strongest signal, one of them, is just nuclear explosions -- the test cases of atomic material," Crutzen said.

"There were the first two nuclear explosions in Japan, but then [much more] testing took place, and anytime that radioactive material came into the world, into the sediments, we had an example of a good marker.

MAINZ, Germany -- The man who named the Anthropocene has had a change of heart.

Twelve years ago, Paul Crutzen, a Nobel laureate and atmospheric chemist, coined the term "Anthropocene" as shorthand, an argument wrapped in a word.

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