Concept: International Commission on Stratigraphy
The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) utilises benchmark chronostratigraphies to divide geologic time. The reliability of these records is fundamental to understand past global change. Here we use the most detailed luminescence dating age model yet published to show that the ICS chronology for the Quaternary terrestrial type section at Jingbian, desert marginal Chinese Loess Plateau, is inaccurate. There are large hiatuses and depositional changes expressed across a dynamic gully landform at the site, which demonstrates rapid environmental shifts at the East Asian desert margin. We propose a new independent age model and reconstruct monsoon climate and desert expansion/contraction for the last ~250 ka. Our record demonstrates the dominant influence of ice volume on desert expansion, dust dynamics and sediment preservation, and further shows that East Asian Summer Monsoon (EASM) variation closely matches that of ice volume, but lags insolation by ~5 ka. These observations show that the EASM at the monsoon margin does not respond directly to precessional forcing.
Human impacts on Earth are now so great that they have led to the concept of a new geological epoch defined by this global human influence: the Anthropocene. While not universally accepted, the term is increasingly popular and widely used. However, even amongst proponents there is considerable debate regarding when the epoch may have started, from coeval with the Holocene, through the industrial revolution, to the mid-20th century when unprecedented human activities resulted in exponential increases in population, resource consumption and pollutant emission. Recently, this latter period, known as the Great Acceleration, appears to be becoming the more widely accepted start date. To define any start point, a global stratigraphic marker or Global Boundary Stratotype Section and Point (GSSP) is typically required. Here, spheroidal carbonaceous fly-ash particles (SCPs), by-products of industrial fossil-fuel combustion, are proposed as a primary marker for a GSSP at the time of the Great Acceleration. Data from over 75 lake sediment records show a global, synchronous and dramatic increase in particle accumulation starting in c.1950 driven by the increased demand for electricity and the introduction of fuel-oil combustion, in addition to coal, as a means to produce it. SCPs are morphologically distinct and solely anthropogenic in origin providing an unambiguous marker. This is a clear signal of great stratigraphic utility representing a primary driving force for global anthropogenic change.
Pliocene baleen whale assemblages are characterized by a mix of early records of extant mysticetes, extinct genera within modern families, and late surviving members of the extinct family Cetotheriidae. Although Pleistocene baleen whales are poorly known, thus far they include only fossils of extant genera, indicating Late Pliocene extinctions of numerous mysticetes alongside other marine mammals. Here a new fossil of the Late Neogene cetotheriid mysticete Herpetocetus is reported from the Lower to Middle Pleistocene Falor Formation of Northern California. This find demonstrates that at least one archaic mysticete survived well into the Quaternary Period, indicating a recent loss of a unique niche and a more complex pattern of Plio-Pleistocene faunal overturn for marine mammals than has been previously acknowledged. This discovery also lends indirect support to the hypothesis that the pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is an extant cetotheriid, as it documents another cetotheriid nearly surviving to modern times.