January 25, 2016

A natural beauty: American geoheritage

by Eric Dillalogue

The American Geosciences Institute (AGI) recently announced that the 2016 Earth Science Week theme is “Our Shared Geoheritage.” A somewhat new term for American ears, geoheritage is defined as

… the collection of natural wonders, landforms, and resources that … are valued for many reasons, including scientific, economic, ecological, educational, cultural, aesthetic, artistic, and recreational purposes. (AGI, 2016)

Perhaps what is most notable about this definition is how inclusive it is: geoheritage covers many natural features and the various methods of appreciating them. It could mean hiking through the Grand Canyon National Park, or studying fossils at the La Brea Tar Pits, or learning about hydrogeological formations at Boiling Springs, PA.

The Isis Temple formation in the Grand Canyon. ©Luca Galuzzi (www.galuzzi.it)

Weaving through these different categories of sites and ways of experiencing them is the call to effectively manage and conserve our environment. The story of Earth, and with it, humanity, is preserved in the diverse geological features around us. Preserving these features helps us to understand the history of our planet and how people and cultures have developed. This is the heritage we’ve inherited and are charged with passing on to future generations.

AGI and the National Park Service have highlighted five geoheritage ideas to help communicate the importance of these sites:

  1. America’s geologic landscape is an integral part of our history and cultural identity. We have a proud tradition of exploring and preserving our geologic heritage;
  1. America’s geologic heritage, as shaped by geologic processes over billions of years, is diverse and extensive;
  1. America’s geologic heritage holds abundant values – aesthetic, artistic, cultural, ecological, economic, educational, recreational, and scientific – for all Americans;
  1. America’s geologic heritage benefits from established conservation methods developed around the world and within the U.S.;
  1. America’s geologic heritage engages many communities, and your involvement will ensure its conservation for future generations.

A teacher and her audience at Acadia National Park, Maine. ©NPS

The concept of geoheritage grew out of UNESCO’s efforts to protect important sites through the World Heritage Program and Biosphere Reserves. Since designation under these programs is designed to protect an area through restrictive measures, UNESCO also developed the Global Network of National Geoparks, which are “geological heritage sites [that] are part of a holistic concept of protection, education and sustainable development.”

Geoparks are managed to meet the needs of local people with an eye towards enhancing the social and economic importance of the sites. Whereas a World Heritage Site is managed by UNESCO and might be thought of as a national or international asset, the Geoparks are managed by member states with support from UNESCO and are a community asset with international importance. Now with more than a 100 sites in 34 countries, the Geoparks concept is quickly developing across the world. But not in the U.S. Though there are many American sites that would qualify and benefit from the Geopark designation, political differences have prevented the U.S. from participating in the program.

Malaysia’s Langkawi Geopark, showing the sky bridge over the rainforest. ©Cheon Fong Liew

AGI’s focus on geoheritage for the 2016 Earth Science Week (Oct. 9-15) is an effort to raise the type of awareness and importance that the Geoparks designation has done elsewhere. AGI will be rolling out resources and activity ideas in anticipation of Earth Science Week in the coming months. But we can celebrate our shared geoheritage today, by visiting a local natural wonder and making efforts to preserve it for future generations.


Learn more:

– America’s Geologic Heritage – National Park Service and American Geosciences Institute: http://www.nature.nps.gov/geology/geoheritage/docs/GH_Publicaton_Final.pdf

– American Geosciences Institute – http://www.americangeosciences.org/

– Earth Science Week site – http://www.earthsciweek.org/

– Global Network of National Geoparks – http://www.globalgeopark.org/index.htm

– World Heritage Sites list – http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/



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Written by

Eric Dillalogue holds a MS in Library and Information Science and a BA in English. He has worked in a variety of roles from service industry management, academic libraries, and grant administration. He has taught courses on information literacy, web research, and developmental reading. Eric joined the Visionlearning team as a project manager in 2014.

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