Union of
Geological Sciences
Geoindicators  |  GEOIN  |  Publications  |  Events  |  Links
Applying geoindicators  |  Checklist  |  Image gallery  |  Scientific Contributors  |  Contact Us
  home  |  back  |  all documents   mail to friend  |  printer friendly version

IUGS winds up GEOIN but geoindicator activities continue

A LITTLE HISTORY It was in 1992 at its annual meeting in Pereira, Colombia, that the former IUGS Commission on Geological Science for Environmental Planning (COGEOENVIRONMENT) decided to work towards the inclusion of important rapid geological processes in state-of-the-environment (SOE) assessments. At that time, many governments had begun to use SOE reports to inform the public of environmental conditions and issues, with the focus on climate, the biosphere, and the impacts of air and water quality on human health. Despite many decades of relevant work by geological surveys and other earth science agencies, SOE reports in the early 1990s generally ignored the effects on people and settlements of coastal erosion, glacial activity, seismic hazards, river processes, and many other rapid landscape changes. It was for this reason that COGEOENVIRONMENT decided to act. An informal working group was established, and two years later organized the International Workshop on Geological Indicators of Rapid Environmental Change, which was held in Corner Brook, Newfoundland, Canada.

The participants in the 1994 meeting issued a widely-circulated consensus message, Assessing Rapid Environmental Change. This Gros Morne Declaration (named after the Canadian National Park and World Heritage Site near Corner Brook) emphasized the importance of abiotic natural change and of efforts to monitor it. The proceedings of the meeting were published in 1996 in a book (“Geoindicators: Assessing Rapid Environmental Change in Earth Systems” A.R. Berger and W.J. Iams (eds), Balkema), which included a short description of 27 geoindicators. This annotated “checklist” has remained the basic core of all geoindicator activities including the many publications published on the topic since. It was posted in full on the internet in 1995 on a US Government web site, and was later moved to the GEOIN site at

In the decade since the appearance of the checklist, the geoindicator concept has been widely disseminated through the internet, refereed journal papers, newsletters, and, especially since 1999, through a series of international workshops, seminars and short courses (Table 1) and many invited lectures (Table 2). These are reported elsewhere on Finances for these activities came from many sources, including IUGS, the Newkirk, Engler and May Foundation, the Geological Society of America, and the Geological Survey of Lithuania.

In June 2002, the geoindicators project became a formal Initiative directly under IUGS, as COGEOENVIRONMENT turned its attentions to other activities. In late 2005, as part of a major reorganization, IUGS terminated the Geoindicators Initiative, and COGEOENVIRONMENT was succeeded by a new Commission on Geoscience for Environmental Management (GEM).

August 1998 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
October 1999 Vilnius, Lithuania
June 2000 Denver, CO, USA
August 2000 Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (IGC)
September 2000 Ustka, Poland
June 2001 Lusaka, Zambia
September 2001 Gros Morne National Park, NL Canada
May 2002 Cordoba, Argentina
October 2002 Cuzco, Peru
July 2003 Bogota, Colombia
September 2003 Assuit, Egypt
November 2003 Canberra, Australia
August 2004 Florence, Italy
November 2005 Florianopolis, Brazil

March 1995 Madrid, Spain (SCOPE)
March 1995 Victoria BC (Canada) (WCAG)
April 1996 Granada, Spain (SCOPE)
November 1996 Denver CO, USA (GSA)
June 1997 Athens, Greece (IAEG)
October 1996 Wuppertal, Germany (SCOPE)
December 1996 Bogota, Colombia (SCOPE)
January 1998 Kandy, Sri Lanka (Geol Soc SL)
May 1998 Eindhoven – The Netherlands (Nat.Geol. Cong.)
January 2001 New Haven CT USA (Yale Univ)
August 2002 Glacier National Park, MT, USA (USNPS)
September 2002 Dublin, Ireland (Landscape Conference)
February 2003 Windhoek, Namibia (GeolSoc Namibia)
September 2003 Vancouver BC (IAEG)
November 2003 Wolfville NS (Acadia Univ)
November 2004 Bobole, Mozambique (DN Project)
March 2005 Mar Chiquita, Argentina (DN project)
June 2005 Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada (DN)
September 2005 Como, Italy (DN Project)
May 2006 Aktau, Kazahkstan (IGCP 480)


The geoindicator project was not requested or mandated by any governmental body, but was rather an attempt by a non-governmental body to provide tools for environmental assessment and reporting activities. Few, if any, agencies have been ready to adopt a program that requires new monitoring activities. This is why the main thrust of the IUGS geoindicator group has been to disseminate and refine the concept, and to argue the importance of tracking rapid geological change.

Since the geoindicator idea first crystallized during a meeting associated with Gros Morne National Park, it was natural that parks and protected areas constituted one focus for applications. For several years, the Geological Division of the U.S. National Park Service conducted a series of workshops to identify rapid geological processes in American parks and national monuments. It is fair to say, however, that in US and Canadian parks progress towards monitoring geological change has been slow. The traditional concentration continues to be on biodiversity, wildlife, and the management of park visitors. Efforts to set up the geoindicator networks proposed during earlier workshops in Southern Africa and Argentina have met with little success. Similarly, attempts to introduce geoindicators to Canada’s national Ecological Monitoring and Assessment Network (EMAN) have made little impact. However, a national-level geoindicator program is under discussion in Brazil, and the Geological Survey of Canada has recently established a small Geoindicator Section. Geoindicators play a regular part in the annual SOE reporting in Lithuania, particularly for karst activity, coastal erosion/deposition, and soil and groundwater quality.

Of course, many geological survey organizations and some environmental agencies around the world are involved in tracking geoindicators in one form or another, though not necessarily under this name. It must also be emphasized that the point of the geoindicator project was to bring together much of this experience in a format that would be useful to non-earth scientists and their organizations.

One unexpected spin-off of the geoindicator concept has been its use in discussions of how past societies and settlements were affected by rapid landscape change. The Dark Nature project (2004-2005), reported elsewhere on, offered several opportunities to expose the concept in new international settings. Another application has been to the emerging field of medical geology, where geoindicators provide a useful summary of the kinds of landscape processes that can affect human health. Geoindicators are also being used to remind people of the reality of natural landscape change. As the human footprint continues to expand and climate change issues become more pervasive, this reminder may find increasing use in environmental action and thinking towards the environment.


Geoindicator activities continue on an ad hoc basis, primarily through the Internet (, with annual reports to IUGS through GEM, though without any financial support. Entries to the web-based geoindicator checklist are revised and updated from time to time, and a set of master images is slowly being accumulated. For further information contact GEM at

 © Geoindicators Initiative GEOIN