UNESCO project: "Language" of the Anthropocene

07.06.2021

A knowledge network of geological signals for the Anthropocene, which concentrates on developing countries, has been selected as one of 18 new global UNESCO Earth sciences projects. The LANGUAGE project is coordinated by Michael Wagreich from the Department of Geology at the University of Vienna.

Plastic waste, radioactive fallout, concrete or even supermarket chicken bones in geological sediments: These are all markers associated with the Anthropocene, the geological epoch of global human impact on Earth. “To make it even more complicated, most of these markers also differ significantly depending on different regions”, explains geologist Michael Wagreich. The project “LANGUAGE – Lessons in anthropogenic impact: a knowledge network of geological signals to unite and assess global evidence of the Anthropocene”, which is coordinated by Wagreich and has been approved as one of 18 new projects of the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) in March 2021, seeks to combine different forms of knowledge about the Anthropocene, as well as approaches to manage this novel planetary crisis in a sustainable way.

Perspectives of developing countries

For this, the project concentrates on developing countries “because their perspectives are often missing in the scientific discourse”, says Wagreich. Most stratigraphic studies related to contemporary geological successions are still located within, or are carried out by scientific teams from developed countries although most developing countries are more affected by environmental changes in the anthroposphere. “However, there are a lot of young scientists all over the world in small communities conducting remarkable research into environmental degradation through pollution, the increase in intensive agriculture and the loss of biodiversity. They are also trying to understand how environmental changes in the geological past can give insights into more recent human-induced world-wide changes”, says Mehwish Bibi from the project team, who is conducting research on the Peshawar Basin in Pakistan. The project therefore aims at connecting these scientists as well as indigenous communities as part of a global infrastructure.

Voices of female scientists and indigenous communities

Together with co-PIs from Pakistan, Poland, Brazil, Kenya, the UK, Japan and China – “all of them female, which is quite rare in geology, where female voices are often missing too”, emphasises coordinator Wagreich – the knowledge network LANGUAGE in the next five years is pooling and assessing global evidence for the Anthropocene. The research team is going to develop a network of expertise as well as fostering workshops in developing countries. “As a result, we are going to design and collate an open database of existing information and expertise on the Anthropocene”, says Bibi.

Widening the discourse

The project also aims at widening the discourse about the Anthropocene in regard to interdisciplinarity, which is of particular importance. Wagreich explains that “the concept evolved in the Earth System sciences and geology, but in the meantime it has spread to various disciplines. While this is an important advantage, it has also led to the risk of confusion of different meanings of the term ‘Anthropocene’”. In a recently published paper in the Journal Earth’s Future, Jan Zalasiewicz, Colin N. Waters and co-authors, among them also Eva Horn and Michael Wagreich from the University of Vienna, therefore encourage more debate across various disciplines —and suggest that eventual formalisation of the Anthropocene in geology would help stabilise its use and gives a common starting point for interdisciplinary discussions and research, including to help societies to navigate the many challenges of the emerging Anthropocene world.

 

About the project

  • In March, the project LANGUAGE (Lessons in anthropogenic impact: a knowledge network of geological signals to unite and assess global evidence of the Anthropocene) has been approved as one of 18 new projects of the UNESCO International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) by the IGCP Council. The eighteen new IGCP projects increased the IGCP family, which is now formed by a total of 57 active projects. Out of these, 50 projects will receive a total funding of $335k from IGCP in 2021.

 

International Geoscience Programme of the UNESCO

  • UNESCO is the only United Nations organisation with a mandate to support research and capacity building in geology and geophysics. The International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) serves as flagship in this regard. This joint venture created 49 years ago by UNESCO, and the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) continues to promote the sustainable use of natural resources according to the UN SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals), advancing new initiatives related to geo-diversity, geo-heritage and geohazards risk mitigation with the financial support of UNESCO, IUGS, Jeju Province Development Corporation and UNESCO Chinese National Commission. The IGCP Council, supported by the Scientific Board, is responsible for evaluating project proposals according to the IGCP Guidelines, as well as for the quality assessment of projects in progress.
Lydia Olaka Sampling at Nairobi River © Lydia Olaka
The LANGUAGE project seeks to combine different forms of knowledge about the Anthropocene, as well as approaches to manage the planetary crisis. It concentrates on developing countries, because their perspectives are often missing in the scientific discourse - although they are often more affected by environmental changes. Photo: © Lydia Olaka
Michael Wagreich © Martin Lifka
Michael Wagreich from the Department of Geology is coordinating the network of geologists from Pakistan, Poland, Brazil, Kenya, the UK, Japan and China. Photo: Martin Lifka
Mehwish Bibi (C) private
The project team is going to "design and collate an open database of existing information and expertise on the Anthropocene”, says Mehwish Bibi from the project team. Photo: Mehwish Bibi, private