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The geoindicator concept was the subject of a recent international workshop held under the sponsorship of IUGS, the Geological Survey of Lithuania (LGT) and the Institute for Earth Science and the Environment (Geological Society of America).
Vilnius workshop was attended by some 40 participants from Belarus, Bulgaria, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. It was designed to explain the geoindicator concept and its application to environmental monitoring, and to test its applicability to practical situations in countries of the region. General reviews were presented by A.R. Berger, P.T. Bobrowsky and D. Huntley, representing the IUGS Commission on Geological Sciences for Environmental Planning (COGEOENVIRONMENT), the umbrella under which geoindicators were compiled and published in 1996 (for an annotated checklist see www.gcrio.org).
One full day of the workshop was devoted to some 20 oral and poster presentations and case studies from the various national countries represented. These included, inter alia, reviews of groundwater as a "universal geoindicator of environmental processes" (A. Domasevicius et al., Lithuania), human-induced geomorphological changes in the Vistula Bay (M. Graniczny, Poland), soil chemistry (V. Kadunas et al, Lithuania), neotectonic hazards in Bulgaria (M. Matova), geochemistry of surficial deposits (R. Salminen et al, Finland), EIA and landscape change in Belarus (S. Sauchyk).
A field excursion to northern Lithuania enabled participants to examine a wide range of features related to active and semi-active karst phenomena, under the guidance of Dr. Vytautas Marcinkevicius (LGT) and Dr Julius Taminskas (Institute of Geography, Lithuania). This area has been quite well studied and comprehensively mapped at a scale of 1:50,000, as expressed in a series of pre-Quaternary and Quaternary geology, hydrogeology, engineering geology, land reclamation, and other maps. Karst phenomena here are now being monitored by direct observations and measurements of karst sinkholes, groundwater levels and chemistry, and hydrochemistry of surficial water flowing out of the karst area. Monitoring the quantity of dissolved gypsum per square km shows that the intensity of karst denudation is increasing. This assumption is evidenced by recent appearances of many new sinkholes, damaging houses, roads and agricultural fields. This field trip demonstrated the value of karst activity geoindicators to monitor and anticipate active dissolution and subsidence processes. The LGT is now carrying out a project to create an integrated data base and models for karstification that will enable forecasts to be made in the interests of safer and more effective land use management.
The workshop attracted much interest from local and national media, and the field trip was accompanied by a national TV camera-man. In the karst area, participants met with local authorities who were keenly interested in the surface hazards involved, and with the owner of a local brewery who was following closely the LGT research on groundwater - and hence beer - quality.
On the last day of the workshop two key questions were discussed. "What geoindicators are presently being monitored in your country, and which ones should be given greater attention".One result is Table 1, which presents a first attempt to summarize the overall state of geo-environmental monitoring in the region. The second result was the recommendation that an Internet-based network should be established and maintained as a means for improving communication, providing information and ideas, and promoting geoindicator monitoring. The Geological Survey of Lithuania agreed to take responsibility to maintain the website (www.lgt.lt) under the overall coordination of Jonas Satkunas, with workshop participants acting initially as local and national contacts.
The geoindicators network, provisionally named GEOIN, will undertake to encourage and disseminate case studies of successful applications of geoindicator monitoring and assessment. Future regional workshops may be organized to review specific geoindicators, bearing in mind the needs and priorities of national monitoring programs, European Union standards, and environmental legislation. GEOIN will use "bad news" examples to "shock" authorities and politicians into action, and will employ mass media more effectively. It will also expand on the economic and social consequences of each geoindicator in the checklist and will clarify how to measure individual geoindicators. It will also provide information on potential sources of funding for individual projects, and will work to create an inventory of international experts on specific geoindicators.
The workshop discussions emphasized the need for 1) an "algorithm" for each geoindicator to relate it to dollars (gains and loss) for the use of decision-makers, 2) action plans to avoid the negative consequences of harmful processes measured by geoindicators, 3) a better and detailed inventory of active projects in the Baltic region of past, current, and planned geoindicator-based studies, 4) clearer determination of critical values (thresholds) for each geoindicator, 5) establishing priorities for geoindicator monitoring based on risk to human life, economic loss, and various scientific considerations, and 6) expanding the existing list of geoindicators, with clear demonstration of their need, and a better identification of those who would use the results.
Finally, and in a spirit of great enthusiasm, it was decided to work towards a second workshop which would focus more closely on specific high-priority geoindicators for the Baltic region, possibly in Poland or Estonia.
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