September 25, 2019, by Nasreen Suleman

Sustainability – are we missing a crucial part of the Earth?

Blog written by Dr Franziska Schrodt, from the University’s School of Geography

Widespread concerns about the impacts of climate change and issues around sustainability of resource use have resulted in these topics being much more present in the media than even a few years ago. Inspiring members of the public, such as Greta Thunberg, further pushed this topic into mainstream knowledge. However, although most people will know something about climate change and threats to biodiversity, few will have every heard about geodiversity.

Geodiversity is the variety of abiotic features and processes of the surface and subsurface (e.g. soils, landforms, hydrological features, rock types) and as such underlies many crucial ecosystem services such as filtering of water and – through sustaining plant growth (soil nutrients and hydrology are important factors) – provisioning of food. Geodiversity is thus fundamental to policy-relevant fields including biodiversity conservation, tourism, global change, policy targets and sustainable natural resource development.

For example, the 54 types of minerals and metals used in mobile devices with touch screens are among the globally rare natural resources being extracted without regulation. This not only risks their future availability and threatens geological or mineral diversity but often has negative impacts on local communities because of toxic extraction methods and conflicts with human rights.

To address this challenge an international group of experts led by researchers at the University of Nottingham have launched a new initiative to better represent geodiversity in global monitoring, policy and planning.

In a paper published in PNAS, we propose that the current global framework for collecting and analysing scientific data to inform global sustainability, known as ‘Essential Variables’, be extended to include geodiversity.

Currently ‘Essential Variables’ have been developed only for biodiversity, the climate and oceans. These identify a set of variables that can be measured repeatedly and in a standardised way across the world to monitor changes to the plant. In their paper the experts argue that a new ‘Essential Geodiversity Variables’ framework be introduced alongside these existing measurements and they contain key information for sustainably managing the world’s geodiversity – the variety of non-living nature, including rocks and soils, landforms and hydrological features such as springs, streams and lakes, as well as minerals.

Geodiversity is overlooked, yet it has an impact on so many areas of our lives. Whilst extracting minerals is essential for achieving the sustainable development goals, for example rare earth minerals are used in solar panels, trade-offs with bio- and geodiversity conservation and human rights need to be explicitly addressed. Geodiversity has been playing catch-up in terms of being included in sustainability initiatives. Our proposal of a new initiative, the Essential Geodiversity Variables, will enable more holistic and better-informed monitoring efforts, decision making and responses to global change.

In the coming months, we will launch a website ( with more information and opportunities for feedback on the definition and use of Essential Geodiversity Variables.

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