World’s Loneliest Tree Reveals The Start Of A New Epoch

Posted: Feb 23 2018, 9:36am CST | by , Updated: Feb 23 2018, 12:44pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

World’s Loneliest Tree Reveals the Start of a New Epoch
This Sitka Spruce on Campbell Island contains a clear “global” marker of a new epoch. Photo: Pavla Fenwick

A radiocarbon spike found in the tree marks the beginning of a new geological age called the Anthropocene

A tree planted on a distant island in New Zealand holds a perfect record of how humans have altered the Earth and forced it to enter an entirely new epoch called the Anthropocene.

The Anthropocene Epoch in which humans made a profound impact on Earth’s environment believed to have started sometime around the mid-20th century. However, for a new epoch to be officially declared there must be a clear and precise "global" signal and researchers suggest that the single tree located in Campbell Island offers a definitive evidence of Anthropocene’s beginning. Its wood contains a sharp spike in radiocarbon as a result of extensive thermonuclear bomb testing in the 1950s and 1960s and this evidence could be used to determine the onset of a new geological age.

By analyzing growth rings from the tree standing in the middle of the Southern Ocean, researchers concluded that the Anthropocene, or "new age of man," began between October and December 1965.

The tree, a sprawling Sitka spruce, was planted by the former governor of New Zealand in 1901 and it stands 30.3 feet tall. It is also referred as 'the loneliest tree in the world' because the next tree closest to it is planted over 200km away on the Auckland Islands.

"The impact that humanity's nuclear weapons testing has had on the Earth's atmosphere provides a global signal that unambiguously demonstrates that humans have become the major agent of change on the planet. This is an important, yet worrying finding. The global atomic bomb signal, captured in the annual rings of this invasive tree species, represents a line in the sand, after which our collective actions have stamped an indelible mark, which will define this new geological epoch for generations to come." Study co-author Professor Christopher Fogwill from Keele University said in a statement.

Tree rings provide a record of changes in environmental conditions and allow researchers to peek into the past. Since one ring is produced every year (usually), they can serve as a reliable source in dating climate events.

Researchers already knew that levels of carbon-14 peaked in the 1960s after nuclear testing. When researchers analyzed a slim core drilled from the spruce tree, they found elevated carbon-14 levels in the samples that perfectly matched the period when bomb testing was carried out.

The radioactive trace is a clear and precise signal that can be detected in the in the geological record, meaning it fitted the requirements as a marker for the beginning of a new epoch.

“We were incredibly excited to find this signal in the Southern Hemisphere on a remote island because for the first time it gave us a well defined global signature for a new geological epoch that could be preserved in the geological record,” said lead author Professor Chris Turney from University of New South Wales. Thousands of years from now this golden spike should still stand as a detectable marker for the transformation of the Earth by humankind."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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