Sunday, September 22, 2019

Geology and Environmental Sustainability: Some Themes From the Geological Society of America Annual Meeting

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I am at the Geological Society of America annual meeting which is taking place in Arizona this year. There are thousands of earth scientists attending this important annual event where new research on a variety of topics is being presented. It is fascinating to see how the field has changed in the last several years. There is much more information on environmental sustainability than there has been in the past. As I type this, for example, I am at a session on human alterations of urban water systems that includes research on water quality and quantity, i.e. human alterations of the water cycle.

I thought I would be useful to organize some of what I see in the program within a handful of broad themes to show the significance of the work of geologists and earth scientists within the field of sustainability.

Theme 1. Climate and paleoclimate. Earth systems, like sedimentation and erosion, react to subtle changes in the climate. As such, geologists are studying past and present changes in earth systems in order to understand the linkages among earth systems and climate change. As we all know, the present is key to the past and the past provides evidence for what can happen in the future. Recent coastal and glacial change as a result of climate change has been an important topic at the conference for many years in a row.

Theme 2. The carbon cycle. Earth systems are very much involved with the carbon cycle. A wide range of topics are being presented on carbon ranging from karst science to linkages of soil and carbon within a changing climate.

Theme 3. Mineral and energy resources. Sustainability doesn't mean that we do not need mineral and energy resources. We just need to use them wisely. A variety of talks at the conference focus on exploration for these resources as well as environmental mitigation of their extraction and use. A variety of papers also focus on soil resources within an agricultural context.

Theme 4. Human impacts and pollution. The measurement of human impacts on our planet can be measured by assessing pollution, by evaluating remotely sensed images (air photos, satellite imagery, etc.), and by measuring systems changes like alterations in biological cycling. There are many presentations on urban systems.

Theme 5. Water. Certainly the water cycle is one of the most important ways that earth science and sustainability intersect. There are many sessions at the conference that range from topics of hydrogeology to surface water management.

There are other themes that I could add to the list (for example, there is a big focus on ethic in the geosciences this year). However, this is a good starting point for trying to organize some of the larger themes that are emerging this year.

No comments: