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How atomic bomb brought Earth into a new epoch

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The company's founder, Robert Vicino, said the Irish public has continued to show a keen interest in the project

The company's founder, Robert Vicino, said the Irish public has continued to show a keen interest in the project

The company's founder, Robert Vicino, said the Irish public has continued to show a keen interest in the project

The world entered a new epoch on July 16, 1945 when humans detonated the first atomic bomb, scientists have concluded.

Human behaviour now has such an enormous impact on Earth that it has even altered the geology of the planet and tipped us into a new era, the Anthropocene.

Although humans have been leaving traces of their actions for thousands of years, it was not until the mid-19th century that they began to affect the entire globe, in what scientists have termed 'the Great Acceleration.'

Since then the world has experienced a huge boom in population, environmental upheaval on land and in the oceans and global connectivity.

Scientists chose the start of the nuclear age for the birth of the new epoch because the fallout from atomic bombs is detectable in the geological record, through radioactive isotopes.

"Like any geological boundary, it is not a perfect marker - levels of global radiation really rose in the early 1950s, as salvoes of bomb tests took place," said Dr Jan Zalasiewicz, of the University of Leicester's Department of Geology and chair of the Anthropocene Working Group.

"But it may be the optimal way to resolve the multiple lines of evidence on human-driven planetary change. Time - and much more discussion - will tell." The term 'Anthropocene' was first coined by Nobel Prize-winning chemist Paul Crutzen, who in 2000 suggested that man's impact on the world was so substantial that we were no longer in the Holocene - the era which began at the end of the last Ice Age around 11,700 years ago and saw unprecedented human expansion and the emergence of towns and cities.

Since then many academics have embraced the concept, but there has been no agreement about when the epoch began. The Anthropene Working Group was established to decide whether the epoch should be officially adopted by the International Commission on Stratigaphy, which will make the final decision next year.

But the latest report from the group suggests that a key turning point can be seen from around the 1950s. This was when humans did not just leave traces of their actions, but began to alter the whole Earth system.

Irish Independent