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208 new human-caused minerals point to 'Anthropocene Epoch'

Press Trust of India  |  Washington 

Scientists have found a group of 208 minerals that originated due to human activities, reinforcing the idea that we have entered Anthropocene - a period in which the planet is dominated by humans, rather than natural influences.

The new found group of minerals account for four per cent of the roughly 5,200 minerals officially recognised by the International Mineralogical Association (IMA).

Most of the recognised minerals attributed to human activities originated through mining in ore dumps, through the weathering of slag, formed in tunnel walls, mine water or timbers, or through mine fires.

Six were found on the walls of smelters, three formed in a geothermal piping system.

"It has taken 4.5 billion years for combinations of elements to meet naturally on Earth at a specific location, depth and temperature, and to form into the more than 5,200 minerals officially recognised today," said Robert Hazen of the Carnegie Institution for Science in the US.

"The majority of these have arisen since the Great Oxidation event two billion years ago," said Hazen.

"Simply put, we live in an era of unparallelled inorganic compound diversification," he said.

"Indeed, if the Great Oxidation eons ago was a 'punctuation event' in Earth's history, the rapid and extensive geological impact of the Anthropocene is an exclamation mark," he added.

The study suggests that humanity has had a major impact on diversity and distribution in the mineral world in multiple ways.

These include manufacturing synthetic "mineral-like" compounds and causing minerals to form as an unintentional byproduct of human activity both directly and indirectly.

In addition to creating new compounds, human activities such as mining and the transport of stone blocks, rocks, sediments, and minerals from their original location to help build roads, bridges, waterways, monuments, kitchen counters, and other human infrastructure, rivals in scale nature's redistribution such as via glaciers.

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires and a host of semi-precious stones, accompanied by concentrations of gold, silver and platinum, are found in shops and households in every corner of the globe, researchers said.

Collections of fine mineral specimens lead to mineral species that would not occur naturally in combination.

In the sediment layers left behind from our age, future mineralogists will find plentiful building materials such as bricks, cinder blocks, and cement, metal alloys such as steel, titanium, and aluminium, along with many lethal radioactive byproducts of the nuclear age.

They might also marvel at some beautiful manufactured gemstones, like cubic zirconia, moissanite, synthetic rubies, and many others," said Marcus Origlieri from the University of Arizona.

The study was published in the journal American Mineralogist.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, March 02 2017. 17:48 IST