Earth may be starting a new geological chapter. What is the Anthropocene?

Scientists conduct core sampling at Crawford Lake on April 12 in Milton, Ontario. The layers of sediment from the lake hold centuries of data — including regarding the human influence on the environment. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
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A lake in Canada serves as the best proof that humans have caused lasting and significant environmental changes to the planet since the mid-20th century — so much so that a group of scientists says a new formal chapter, called the Anthropocene, should be added to the planet’s official history.

The body of water, Crawford Lake, has layered sediments that record more than a thousand years of environmental history, including proof of humanity’s adverse impacts on the planet since the mid-20th century, The Washington Post has reported. Many of the changes “will persist for millennia or longer, and are altering the trajectory of the Earth,” according to the Anthropocene Working Group.

If the findings are endorsed by the wider geological community, Earth will have a new interval added to its 4.6 billion-year timeline. It will also bolster awareness of how human-driven pollution — including planet-warming gases from burning fossil fuels — has transformed the planet in fundamental and dangerous ways.

Here’s what to know about the Anthropocene epoch, and why it matters.

Read more: Dig into Crawford Lake's sediments to see how humans have changed the planet