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Beginning of a new epoch has been confirmed with the help of the loneliest tree in the world

Posted February 20, 2018

We need to divide our history and time into periods. However, recent history is not that interesting to scientists. We are sort of pushing the burden of the judgement to the historians of the next generation. However, now a team of scientists led UCL say that humans have entered a new epoch, called Anthropocene, and a lonely tree brings evidence.

Testing of nuclear weapons left a deep mark in geological records, which is what is going to define our epoch. Image credit: Éric Ruel via Wikimedia

This new epoch, according to scientists, would be defined as the beginning when human impact on the environment became significant. For the beginning of the Anthropocene scientists needed empirical evidence and that is where that Sitka Spruce tree found on Campbell Island comes in. This spruce is regarded as the loneliest tree in the world, because it is in the middle of the Southern Ocean and the closest tree is over 200 km away. Scientists analysed its heartwood and found a radiocarbon peak or ‘golden spike’, created by the culmination of mostly Northern Hemisphere atmospheric thermonuclear bomb tests in the 1950s and 1960s.

Why these golden spikes are important? The new epoch should be defined by evidence in geological record. The future scientists should be able to detect when and how it started. Nuclear weapons testing might be that big event that left a mark in Earth history deep enough for it to be called the beginning of Anthropocene. Atmospheric radiocarbon peak in Northern hemisphere occurred around 1964. It took another year to become global, which makes 1965 almost the perfect time to define the beginning of a new epoch. However, that lonely tree is also quite an interesting specimen.

The loneliest tree. Image credit: Pavla Fenwick, UCL

That Sitka Spruce tree on Campbell Island is actually an anomaly in the Southern Ocean. It is naturally found in North American Pacific Coast. However, it is a 100 years old now and it could be that it was planted by the Governor of New Zealand in 1901. Because it is not in its natural environment, the tree is actually forever young – it by the Governor of New Zealand in 1901.has never produced cones, even though it is 10 meters tall. Professor Mark Maslin, co-author of the study, said: “It seems somehow apt that this extraordinary tree, planted far from its normal habitat by humans has also become a marker for the changes we have made to the planet. It is yet further evidence, if that was needed, that in this new epoch no part of our planet remains untouched by humans”.

It is kind of sad that we live in an epoch, defined by such a negative characteristic as changing our planet forever. However, we should look forward to the future, because humanity is trying to reduce its impact on the environment and the progress is visible.


Source: UCL

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