Monday, June 7, 2021

A planet of geodiversity

by Silvia Peppoloni*

This article was published in ReWriters Magazine, in Italian and English:

* Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia, Rome (Italy); Secretary General of the IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics; Councillor of the IUGS - International Union of Geological Sciences; Member of the Ethical Board of ICOS - Intergrated Carbon Observation System; Coordinator of IAPG-Italy; Member of the Board of Directors of the Italian Geological Society. Email:

Silvia Peppoloni
Great news for our planet! The goal of establishing the International Day of Geodiversity seems almost achieved.

On April 16, 2021, the proposal to dedicate an international day to the celebration of the importance of geodiversity passed what could be considered its most difficult test, as it was unanimously approved within one of the commissions of the Executive Committee of the UNESCO. More than 70 countries spread across all continents have co-sponsored this proposal, as well as numerous international geoscience and nature conservation organizations. In all likelihood, the first international day of geodiversity will take place on October 6, 2022.

Geodiversity is the foundation of biodiversity and of every socio-ecological system on the planet, but for most people, from the general public to the political decision-maker, its value and all its implications remain unknown. This is where the proponents of this international day started from: the urgency of increasing knowledge on geodiversity, promoting global education and awareness of its value, as well as the value of geosciences, disciplines that study the forms and processes of the Earth. But let’s see in detail what geodiversity is. Its official definition was formulated by ProGEO, the European Association for the Conservation of the Geological Heritage.

But what is geodiversity?

Geodiversity includes all non-living parts of nature: minerals, rocks, fossils, soils, sediments, soil forms, as well as the geological and morphogenetic processes that occur on Earth and the hydrological elements that characterize it, such as rivers and lakes.

Geodiversity has been a long neglected concept, while the role it plays in our lives, society and the environment as a whole is of the utmost importance. The elements that constitute it are an irreplaceable substratum of our societies, with undoubted advantages for many aspects of human life: from the land we cultivate, to the natural resources with which we build our settlements, to the aesthetic enjoyment of the landscapes in which we are immersed. The same landscapes, which inspire art, support tourism and strengthen our bond with the territory, are a product of geodiversity. The individual components of geodiversity tell us the history of the Earth, its evolution in deep time, its climatic changes and geological risks.

The diversity of geological resources plays an essential role in the economic and social development of humanity. When used with prudence and foresight, mineral resources create economic wealth and jobs. Rocks and geological processes have a fundamental role in regulating our environment, just think of the balancing function they exert on the water flow of watercourses, closely linked to the possibility that waters can infiltrate and be hosted by the rocks of the subsoil. Furthermore, rocks and sediments play a crucial role in filtering polluted surface waters before they reach an aquifer, as well as in the formation of soils for agricultural uses.

The geological characteristics of places have always influenced their evolution, also favouring or hindering the possibilities for development and progress of the human communities that live there. Since its appearance on Earth, the human being is so to speak "Homo geologicus": he/she lives in caves dug into the rock, works obsidian to obtain tools indispensable for his/her survival, uses the rocky walls as pictorial surfaces for first artistic manifestations. And again: he/she transports, raises and aligns huge stones, uses them to create alignments that are still indecipherable today, perhaps in response to his/her first spiritual calls; and finally he/she venerates as deities geological and morphological elements of the landscape such as volcanoes, rivers, springs. Even today the urban fabric of our villages, the development of productive activities, the habits of life and the very character of the populations often reflect the conditioning of the geological specificity of that territory, the conditioning of geodiversity.

It is no coincidence that some authors have demonstrated with scientific expertise and with captivating style how Rome has been able to develop and become the city caput mundi thanks to its truly unique territorial and natural features (Funiciello et al., The seven hills of Rome: a geological tour of the eternal city, 2006). The presence of volcanic soils from which to obtain excellent building materials, the abundance of groundwater and springs of excellent quality, the proximity to a navigable watercourse such as the Tiber river, the hilly morphology that offered relief sites to defend against enemies and to stay away from the unhealthy conditions of the most depressed areas, and many other geographical, geological and morphological aspects, determined its rise to the fore in history. And on closer inspection, Rome is not the only place where geodiversity and historical events are intimately connected. Everywhere the combination of the available geo-resources, of the geological processes and of the geo-risks present in a territory is intertwined with the development of local civilizations.

After all, geological diversity always sets the starting conditions for the evolution of a place. Geodiversity is in turn the product of a continuous evolution that took place in space and time, which involved and continues to influence not only physical but also anthropological aspects of the territory, often becoming an integral part of the identity of a place and its inhabitants. Thus for some human communities it becomes natural to identify with the colours of their own land. Ostuni, in southern Italy, is “the white city” for the extraordinary brightness of the white limestone on which it is built and its inhabitants perceive that glow as an integral part of their life. Petra, in Jordan, goes down in history as “the pink city of the Middle East” thanks to its paleozoic polychrome sandstones. Civita di Bagnoregio, in central Italy (in the picture), owes its sad name of “dying city” to the continuous demolition of its slopes by landslides.

Safeguarding the environment and respecting geodiversity, as well as biodiversity, are the basis of a modern ecological sensitivity, which can also be considered the result of a historical process of moral development. In 2021, albeit with a delay of a few decades, we are ready to recognize the full dignity of geodiversity. This is a way to grasp in the totality of human experiences and knowledge that value of diversity that characterizes a renewed awareness of the complexity of the world.


Other articles published in the IAPG Blog:

IAPG - International Association for Promoting Geoethics

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