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Geoindicators: Tools for Assessing Rapid Environmental Changes
COGEOENVIRONMENT Working Group on Geoindicators

The following document is extracted from a monograph (Berger, A.R. & W.J.Iams 1996. Geoindicators: Assessing Rapid Environmental Changes in Earth Systems. Rotterdam: A.A.Balkema). The full rationale for geoindicators, together with extensive background material, can be found in this volume.

ABSTRACT: The condition of the environment at any time reflects not only human influences but also natural processes and phenomena, which may be causing change whether or not people are present. The long evolutionary history of the Earth and the biosphere has been punctuated throughout by environmental changes that reduced or enhanced the capacity of terrestrial landscapes to provide a place for healthy life. Moreover, away from obvious sources of human disturbance (cities, waste disposal sites, mines, deforested areas), it may be extraordinarily difficult to separate the effects of human actions from those due to "background" natural processes.

An annotated checklist of geological indicators of rapid environmental change illustrates this point. Listed here are 27 earth system processes and phenomena that are liable to change in less than a century in magnitude, direction, or rate to an extent that may be significant for environmental sustainability and ecological health. Geoindicators have been developed as tools to assist in integrated assessments of natural environments and ecosystems, as well as for state-of-the-environment reporting. As descriptors of common earth processes that operate in one terrestrial setting or another, geoindicators represent collectively a new kind of landscape metric, one that concentrates on the non-living components of the lithosphere, pedosphere, hydrosphere, and their interactions with the atmosphere and biosphere (including humans).

See also The Gros Morne Declaration on long-term monitoring of the terrestrial environment.

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