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The dawn of a new epoch

Nov 032015


Yes, that does sound a little like hyperbole, but it is actually true. Epochs are subdivisions of Earth's geologic timescale. The progression from one to another is marked by some easily distinguishable, global stratigraphic 'event' such as mass extinction or shift from one climate regime to another. Scientists are currently moving toward the formal declaration of a new epoch - the Anthropocene Epoch.

The event that distinguishes this epoch from the previous (Holocene Epoch) is the arrival of mankind as an agent of change on a global basis. James Syvitski, IGBP Chair, explains this in his 2012 article  "Anthropocene: An epoch of our making" (pdf). His report describes broad changes since the Industrial Revolution spanning dramatic alterations in eco-systems from coastal zones, loss of rain forests, domesticated land, ozone depletion and water use. Syvitski states, "By any unbiased and quantitative measure, humans have affected the surface of the Earth at a magnitude that ice ages have had on our planet, but over a much shorter period of time".

The impacts of these global changes aren't reported in doom and gloom, end of the world terms - in fact the report ends on a hopeful note. Sustainability is simply a goal to be achieved to keep improving human wellbeing. Says Syvitski, "Our strength as humans is the capacity to recognize problems, to understand them and to develop solutions". Let's hope so. At Lizard Point, we're encouraged by the emerging recognition of the degree to which mankind is actually influencing the world we live - and we have faith in new generations of globally aware and sensitive humans.

Here's the  "TedTalk" video on the Anthropocene.

Iceland volcano spewed more toxic gas than all of Europe

Sep 242015

A recently released study from the University of Leeds indicates that the 6 month eruption from the Bardarbunga volcano in Iceland emitted three times as much toxic gas than all man-made sources in Europe.  

Iceland volcano eruption Credit: John Stevenson

According to an article in Wired UK the eruption started in August, 2014, and continued until February, 2015. At points, the volcano expelled as much as 120 kilotons of gases a day, eight times the rate of all European industry.  The article quotes Anja Schmidt, author of the study from the University of Leeds, "This was a truly spectacular eruption -- the biggest in Iceland for more than 200 years. It became clear very quickly that the eruption was producing truly staggering amounts of sulphur dioxide -- a toxic gas," .

In an sobering side note, John Stevenson, co-author of the study at the University of Edinburgh, told WIRED, "For the next two decades we'll be in the peak of Icelandic rifting period" -- a period of heightened volcanic activity that occurs every 140 years or so -- meaning "there will be a chance that there will be more eruptions like this one in the next 20 years."  

Lizard Point has a geography definitions study guide that can be useful in learning definitions of terms such as volcano, magma, caldera and lava.  Just follow this link and click on the study quiz mode.