Are we at the dawn of a new geological era?

Scientists have identified a sudden explosion of mineral diversity on the surface of our planet and humans are responsible for it. This pushes researchers to consider that we have indeed entered a new era: the Anthropocene.

A new study published in the journal American Mineralogist notes the incredible rise of new minerals (208 in total) that appeared in an extremely short geological time during the industrial revolution. They have led to an unprecedented diversification of crystals on Earth, even eclipsing the Great Oxidation that occurred 2.3 billion years ago. According to the scientific study, human activity would be responsible in total for the recent appearance of 4% of the 5,200 minerals officially recognized by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA). This observation reinforces the scientific argument which designates as anthropocene our geological epoch characterized by the omnipresent impact of humans.

Most of these minerals attributed to human activities come from mines in ore dumps, on tunnel walls, in mine water or wooden structures or from fires in mines. Six were found on the walls of foundries, three formed in the plumbing of a geothermal installation. Due to human activity, some minerals can also occur naturally. Three minerals in this category have been found in corroded lead artifacts from a Tunisian shipwreck, two in bronze artifacts in Egypt, and two in pewter artifacts in Canada. The list does not include new minerals that have been deliberately synthesized by humans such as those produced in magnets, batteries and synthetic gemstones. Despite everything, such a sudden mineral explosion underlines at least one thing: Man is shaping the world at an unprecedented rate.

 » It took 4.5 billion years for mineral elements to combine naturally, at a specific location, depth and temperature to form the more than 5,200 officially recognized minerals today. “, explains Robert Hazen, co-author of this study.  » Most of them have appeared since the “great oxidation”, 2 billion years ago and 208 of these 5,200 have been produced directly or indirectly by human activities, mainly since the middle of the 18th century. We believe many more are being formed at the same breakneck pace. “, continues the researcher.  » Indeed, 250 years compared to 2 billion years is the difference between the blink of an eye (a third of a second) and a month. In other words, we live in an era of rapid diversification of inorganic compounds that is unprecedented. Indeed, if the “great oxidation” represents like a comma in the history of the planet, the enormous geological impact of the Anthropocene is an exclamation point. “, he pictures.

Thus, we would have entered fully into a new geological period marked by humanity’s ability to transform the geology of planet Earth at a frantic pace even if this is not yet recognized by the scientific community. It thus succeeds the Holocene, a geological period in which we have been living for 11,500 years.


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