The research suggests that the Earth is now characterised by a geologically unprecedented pattern of global energy flow that is pervasively influenced by humans - and which is necessary for maintaining the complexity of modern human societies.

While analysing the Anthropocene phenomenon - an epoch where humans dominate the Earth's surface geology - researchers identified that human patterns of production and consumption are a key factor characterising the epoch, and when measured against the billion-year old patterns of planet Earth, they form a striking new pattern.

"Very big changes in our planet's pattern of biological production and consumption do not happen very often. The appearance of photosynthesis was one, about two and a half billion years ago," said Jan Zalasiewicz from University of Leicester in the UK.

"Other major events have happened since, such as five major mass extinctions, but even measured against these events, human-driven changes to production and consumption are distinctly new," he added.    

By digging phosphorus out of the ground and by fixing nitrogen out of the air to make fertilisers; and by exploiting hundreds of millions of years-worth of stored carbon-based energy in a still-accelerating trend, humans are increasing productivity well above natural levels - and directing much of it towards animals that have been re-engineered to suit our purposes.

Unprecedented stratigraphic signals are challenging disciplines like geology and archaeology to assess such changes and put them in temporal context, relative to other major transitions in Earth's history, they said.
The findings were published in the journal Earth's Future.

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