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Explanation of Format
Geoindicator Checklist (1995): Compiled by COGEOENVIRONMENT (IUGS) Working Group on Geoindicators


NAME: Applied to individual geoindicators. Note that some are fairly specific (relative sea level, streamflow), whereas others are more general (frozen ground activity, soil quality).

BRIEF DESCRIPTION: What is the geoindicator, and how does it express geological processes and phenomena?

SIGNIFICANCE: Why is it important to track changes in this geoindicator? How are changes in it liable to affect agriculture, forestry, ecosystems, human health, settlements and infrastructure, and other economic sectors and societal issues?

HUMAN OR NATURAL CAUSE: Can this geoindicator be used to distinguish natural from anthropogenic change, and if so how? This field makes explicit the ease or difficulty of separating human from natural change, a fundamental consideration in dealing with environmental change.

ENVIRONMENT WHERE APPLICABLE: In what general landscape settings would this geoindicator be used (e.g. coasts, deserts, tundra, mountains)? This field facilitates the identification of all geoindicators for any particular environment.

TYPES OF MONITORING SITES: Where specifically should this geoindicator be measured?

SPATIAL SCALE: At what scale would this geoindicator normally be monitored in the field, and (after the slash /) to which larger scale can it generally be aggregated? For example, glacier fluctuations are assessed on a glacier by glacier basis, but despite contrasts in behaviour from one glacier to another, such assessments may be aggregated to give an average or mean assessment of glacier condition over an entire glacial region. Stream sediment discharge, though measured on a river by river basis, is often aggregated to give an overall picture for a particular nation or region. The spatial scale used here is a convenient one based on standard practice in ecology: patch (0-1 km), landscape (1-10 km), mesoscale (10-100 km), regional (100-1,000 km), continental (1,000-10,000 km).

METHOD OF MEASUREMENT: How is this indicator measured in the field? What laboratory and other analytical techniques are involved? Field mapping is the basic requirement for studying most geoindicators. Special reference is also made to new tools and technologies such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS), based on satellite transmission of microwave signals to surface receivers, whose positions can be determined with accuracies to a few mm. GPS techniques may be combined with Very-Long-Baseline Interferometry to establish velocity fields with accuracies of 1-2 mm/year over distances of 10-500 km. Satellite images, properly enhanced, can provide information of great value to landscape studies, because they contain spatial and spectral data which can provide insights not otherwise available. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allow the organization and manipulation of spatially related datasets in powerful ways, which provide an analytical tool for testing landscape models and developing new ideas.

FREQUENCY OF MEASUREMENT: How often should this geoindicator be monitored in the field, so as to establish a proper time series and baseline trend? These are general guidelines only, for in most cases the nature of the site and the environmental issue being investigated will determine the frequency of repeated measurement. For some earth systems, the more often a geoindicator is measured the easier it is to screen out background `noise' in the signal. Seasonally variable geoindicators should be monitored at the same time every year. Nevertheless, many geoindicators remain stable for considerable periods of time and undergo change mainly during infrequent extreme events, such as floods, surface faulting, storms, and landslides.

LIMITATIONS OF DATA AND MONITORING: What important difficulties are there in acquiring field or laboratory data and in applying this indicator? In many cases, field and other analytical data may be limited in application because natural systems are open to a wide range of external influences, or because of the spatial and temporal complexity of earth processes. Current efforts in many countries to reduce government expenditures are compromising the effectiveness of existing monitoring programs.

APPLICATIONS TO PAST AND FUTURE: How can this geoindicator be applied to paleoenvironmental analysis? What predictive potential has it? Most earth systems operate over long time periods, evolving at rates that are beyond human experience, so that geological records of past environments and natural events are essential in developing an understanding of baseline trends and directions of landscape change. Predictions and forecasts require a thorough understanding of both the dynamic behaviour of earth systems and the directions in which they have developed in the recent past. Studies of the natural archive preserved, for example, in successive layers of ice and sediment, the character of ground temperature profiles, or the isotopic composition of groundwater and coral growth layers are, thus, of fundamental importance.

POSSIBLE THRESHOLDS: What thresholds or limits are there, across which drastic environmental change or threats to human health and biodiversity can occur? For virtually all indicators, a threshold may be said to be crossed when changes begin to affect ecosystem or human health and property. Such thresholds are clearly a matter of perception: some may see a geoindicator change as unimportant, while others may regard it as beneficial or harmful. The focus here is, therefore, on physical and chemical thresholds in nature that determine system behaviour, such as freezing and melting temperatures of soils and water.

KEY REFERENCES: Listed here for further reference are a few, readily obtainable, practical manuals, or citations to key scientific/technical publications on this geoindicator. To save repetition, some general references useful for many geoindicators are listed here:
Berger, A.R. & W.J.Iams (eds.) 1996. Geoindicators: assessing rapid environmental change in earth systems. Rotterdam: Balkema. The scientific and policy background to geoindicators, including the first formal publication of this checklist.
Goudie, A., M. Anderson, T. Burt, J. Lewin, K. Richards, B. Whalley, & P. Worsley 1991. Geomorphological techniques. Second Edition. London: Allen & Unwin. A comprehensive review of techniques that have been employed in studies of drainage basins, rivers, hillslopes, glaciers and other landforms.
McCarthy, J.J., O.F. Canziani, N.A. Leary, D.J. Dokken and K.S. White (eds). 2001. Climate change 2001: impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Cambridge University Press. Authoritative review of the effects of climate change and its effects on people, ecosystems and landscapes.
Nuhfer, E.B., R.J. Proctor & P.H.Moser 1993. The citizens' guide to geologic hazards. American Institute for Professional Geologists (7828 Vance Drive, Ste 103, Arvada CO 80003, USA). A very useful summary of a wide range of natural hazards.

OTHER SOURCES OF INFORMATION: Listed here are the kinds of national agencies (e.g. geological surveys), scientific programs and projects (e.g. under the United Nations) or specific international organizations (e.g. World Glacier Monitoring Service) from which further information, data sets and expertise may be available. These can be useful points of entry for further queries. For many geoindicators a search of the Internet will yield useful results.

RELATED ENVIRONMENTAL AND GEOLOGICAL ISSUES: Briefly mentioned here are environmental and geological issues and situations related to the specific geoindicator under consideration.

OVERALL ASSESSMENT: A summary of the importance of this geoindicator for environmental monitoring and sustainability assessments.

N.B. Cross-references to other geoindicators are given in square brackets [ ].
NA Not applicable

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