A international group of scientists have proposed that humankind’s impact on the planet has been profound enough, with enough manmade materials deposited in the geological record, to re-define our current era as one shaped by humanity. The proposed name for this new epoch is "the Anthropocene".
This new proposal, published by an international group of researchers called The Anthropocene Working Group, was first made by atmospheric chemist and Nobel laureate Paul Crutzen in 2002, due to the profound impact humanity has made on the planet. In 2009 the International Commission on Stratigraphy, the scientific organization that governs how different geological time periods are defined, would task The Anthropocene Working Group to study whether or not the current era was distinct enough to be re-defined as a human-influenced Anthropocene.
The result of the study, published under the title "The Anthropocene is functionally and stratigraphically distinct from the Holocene", found that humankind’s footprint on the planet was indeed distinct enough to separate it from the Holocene, the period we are (or at least were) living in, that started 13,700 years ago.
The group found that humans have left a multitude of artificial materials in the geological record that make up a distinct layer from pre-civilization layers deposited during the Holocene. Examples of materials listed by the group include pottery, glass, bricks, concrete, copper alloys, elemental aluminum, plastics, particles from fossil fuels, and high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus (from fertilizers and pesticides).
If the group’s findings are accepted by the ICS, this means that we will officially be living in a new epoch. However, the group sill needs to define when the Anthropocene will have started, and what geological marker should be used to define that period. As an example, the boundary between the Cretaceous and the Paleogene Periods is marked by a distinct layer of iridium, deposited by the meteorite impact that wiped out three-quarters of the planet’s species. The year 1950 has been suggested, with nuclear fallout being used as the physical marker to define the beginning of the Anthropocene geological layer.