A call for national guidelines and criteria for protecting sites of geological significance
In 2019, the discovery of an outcrop of Thulite in Snillfjord, Central Norway, caught public attention. (Links to a post in norwegian). A tunnel had been drilled straight through the spectacular, pink-coloured ridge. Alas, the site was not preserved or made accessible to the public. Instead, it was covered in concrete in accordance with the construction plan. It was not contractor who is at blame: there is no legal framework to handle or assess such discoveries.
In land-use planning, knowledge about an area’s natural diversity (including its geological diversity) is important. This knowledge can be used determine if human activities can negatively impact the natural environment.
The film “Gisle Greystone and Frida Fossil”, addresses the concept of geological sites in an unusual way. It points out that there are spectacular localities with qualities that most of us can appreciate. However, its true aim is to turn the spotlight on the subtle, less spectacular sites that could have high scientific value, at a regional, national and often even international level.
How do we know which rocks are important?
There are well-established methods to describe and assess important biological and archaeological sites. In geology, however, there is a need to develop such methods. The lack of methods may result in potential loss of important sites during construction work. This is partly because the sites are not known and because there is no system on how to assess their value, and then compare to other land use. The result is that only a few of the most spectacular localities are preserved, and this often happens only by coincidence.
How do we acquire the knowledge needed to address the issue of geoconservation during land-use planning process? In the project GEARS (Geological Heritage in Central Scandinavia) NGU, SGU and other partners are testing methods for the registration and appraisal of geological sites.
Examples of such sites include:
- Rare geological oddities
- Spectacular geology being attractive tourist destinations
- Sites suitable for education in natural science and natural history
- Sites of high professional interest, important for scientific understanding and for the reproduction of scientific results
- Important cultural heritage sites, e.g. old mines
- Sites that support important ecosystem services
Conviction or knowledge?
It is a complicated task to establish methods for objective and reproduceable assessments of any natural asset, and sites of intrinsic, geoscientific value are no exception.
GEARS has identified important parameters for both site registration and the subsequent evaluation process. The registration process involves dividing observations into descriptive and independent features; for example, type of geological phenomena, rock type, geological environment etc.
The evaluation process, however, is more demanding. How do we avoid personal bias? How do we determine if one rock is more important than the other?
It is important to consider in which context the site is important and to compare it with similar localities on different scales. Features such as representativity, rareness and vulnerability are key issues. Other important considerations include suitability for education, science or recreation.
A preliminary method will be presented in the final report from the GEARS project. Until then, we hope that our heroes Gisle and Frida can serve as examples on why such a method is needed.