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Epitaph stratigraphy: nuclear ABCs.

There may not be much life after a nuclear war, but there will still be geologically interesting rocks. And for any surviving stratigraphers, say two geologists, a nuclear apocalypse, with its concomitant radioactive fallout and mass extinctions, would create in the geological record an ideal horizon--a layer formed in sediments everywhere at once.

Eric Prosh and Sandy McCracken at the University of Western Ontario in London decided that if humankind can't prevent a nuclear war, people should at least get the stratigraphic names straight afterwards. In preparation, the two graduate students outlined their proposal for postapocalypse nomenclature in a semi-satirical paper published in the January GEOLOGY.

Most era and eon names, for example, and in -zoic, meaning life or animal. Hence there is the Paleozoic (old life) era and the Proterozoic (before life) eon. For the post-nuclear war world, Prosh and McCracken suggest Hysterozoic eon, meaning after life, and Telozoic era, from the Greek telos, or end. Epochs are named by comparing past fauna with living fauna. The Holocene, Pleistocene and Miocene, for instance, combine the suffix-cene, meaning new, with prefixes meaning whole, most and less. For postapocalypse times the geologists have two proposals: Kenocene, from the Greek kenos meaning empty, and Kerocene, taken from keros, or death.

In this naming scheme, they say, there is no reason to consistently favor Greek because all languages would be "dead" and fixed. Possible alternatives for epochs, based on English, include Nothingcene, Changeofcene and Weshouldhavecene.

Prosh says he wanted to show that stratigraphic names are not mere etymological whimsy, but reflect real earth history. "We also wanted to shake up the scientific community.... This nuclear winter stuff is serious," he says.
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Title Annotation:humor
Publication:Science News
Date:Feb 16, 1985
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