The impact humans have made on Earth in terms of how we produce and consume resources has formed a ‘striking new pattern’ in the earth’s energy flow, according to researchers from the University of Leicester.
The research suggests that the Earth is now characterised by a geologically unprecedented pattern of global energy flow that is pervasively influenced by humans – and which is necessary for maintaining the complexity of modern human societies.
The new study, published in the journal Earth’s Future, is led by Professors Mark Williams and Jan Zalasiewicz of the University of Leicester’s Department of Geology working with an international team of scholars.
While analysing the Anthropocene phenomenon – an epoch where humans dominate the Earth’s surface geology – the team identified that human patterns of production and consumption are a key factor characterizing the epoch, and when measured against the billion-year old patterns of planet Earth, they form a striking new pattern.
In addition, by digging phosphorus out of the ground and by fixing nitrogen out of the air to make fertilizers; and by exploiting hundreds of millions of years-worth of stored carbon-based energy in a still-accelerating trend, humans are increasing productivity well above natural levels – and directing much of it towards animals that have been re-engineered to suit our purposes.
In 2016 the Anthropocene Working Group led by Professor Zalasiewicz will gather more evidence on the Anthropocene, which will help inform recommendations on whether this new time unit should be formalized and, if so, how it might be defined and characterized.