Posted on this web site August 2008
preparing an inventory and framework for the Global Inventory of the IUGS
E. B. JOYCE
School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne VIC 3010 Australia
A new inventory of geological and geomorphological sites for the continent of Australia under preparation will cover key sites and terrains on the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and Australian territories and islands. The inventory will based on reports by the Geological Society of Australia, on an early listing based on these publications by Cochrane & Joyce (1986), a short list prepared for GILGES & UNESCO by Joyce (1991), a further GILGES list published in Cowie (1992), discussions in Joyce (1994a, 1994b, and 1995b), the Australian Heritage Commission’s Register of the National Estate, and most recently an independent review by Yeates (2001a & b) of all earlier published work.
Initially interested parties will be consulted to help define framework elements for Australian Geosites. The Geological Society of Australia and the Australian Heritage Commission will have a major involvement, with many sites geological sites already listed on the Register of the National Estate. Other groups to be consulted include the national government’s geological survey, state government geological surveys and departments of environment and conservation, including the active forestry groups in Tasmania, and the national government’s World Heritage section. This procedure will lead to the final selection and listing of Geosites for Australia.
Keywords: Geosites; inventory; framework; consultation, Australia.
A new inventory of geological and geomorphological sites for the continent of Australia covers key sites and terrains on the Australian mainland, Tasmania, and Australian territories and islands. The inventory is based on earlier listings by Cochrane & Joyce (1986), a list for UNESCO (Joyce 1991), and a review for the Australian Heritage Commission by Yeates (2001a & b).
Australia has a coastline of around 32,000 km, with varying rock types and structure, coastal types and climate. Special and representative coastal sites form a significant part of the Australian inventory. Major terrains include inland deserts (Simpson Desert dunefield), northern tropical savannah (Kakadu World Heritage Region), glacial and periglacial uplands in the south (Tasmania), broad inland riverine plains (Murray Basin), and the young volcanic province of southeastern Australia. There are also karst and cave sites (the Nullarbor Plain), and many palaeoweathering landforms in central Australia, as well as representative stratigraphic sites, rock and mineral sites, and structural and tectonic sites. Viewpoints are also included, and sites related to the history of geology (e.g. Charles Darwin and the Blue Mountains of NSW). Important fossil sites range from the Proterozoic stromatolites of the Pilbara of northwestern Australia to the World Heritage Tertiary mammal fossils of Riversleigh and Naracoorte.
The Geosites program began in 1996, operating under the IUGS until 2004 (Dingwall et al. 2005) to develop an international database from a systematic inventory of the world’s geological resources. The primary objective of the program is to provide a factual basis to support national and international initiatives to protect geological resources for research and education. An intended end-use of the database is also to provide advice to the IUGS, and other bodies such as UNESCO, on priorities for conservation of geological sites in a global context (Dingwall et al. 2005) and so is of potential benefit to the World Heritage Program.
Geosites (sometimes referred to as Global Geosites) rely on a systematic inventory of geological phenomena. Individual countries are encouraged to adopt their own stratigraphic, tectonic, or other frameworks for this purpose. Geosites is developing overarching criteria and principles to guide the objective selection of the best geological sites for the international database.
Key criteria are Representativeness, Uniqueness, Suitability for correlation, Complexity and geodiversity, Degree of research/study, Site availability and potential.
Rather than using rigid classification systems, Geosites places emphasis on the development of thematic frameworks that enable sites to be selected as evidence of major geological events or processes (see later examples in discussion on themes in Australian heritage work).
The term “Geosite” began to appear in publications of the early 1990s. For example, Cowie & Wimbledon (1994), in the book of the Malvern International Conference of 1993, discuss the compilation of sites for the Global Indicative List of Geological Sites (GILGES), which was developed for UNESCO and ICSU by Cowie and others, beginning in 1990 (see Cowie 1992). Although the term “Geosite” itself is curiously not listed in the index to the Malvern conference book, Cowie & Wimbledon use the term (p.71) in their explanation of the connection between GILGES and the then new IUGS GEOSITES database.
A general discussion of the term Geosite is given by Reynard (2004). He gives as synonyms geotopes, Earth science sites, and geoscience sites. He defines geosites as “portions of the geosphere that present a particular importance for the comprehension of Earth history”.
An IUGS Global Geosites Working Group (GGWG) was set up by the International Union of Geological Sciences, with the following terms of reference (Wimbledon 1999):
Š To compile the Global Geosites list
Š To construct the Geosites database of key sites and terrains.
Š To use the Geosites inventory to further the cause of geoconservation and thus support geological science in all its forms.
Š To support regional and or national initiatives aiming to compile comparative inventories.
Š To participate in and support meetings and workshops that examine site selection criteria, selection methods or conservation of key sites.
Š To assess the scientific merits of sites in collaboration with specialists, research groups, associations, commissions, subcommissions etc.
Š To advise IUGS and UNESCO on the priorities for conservation in the global context, including World Heritage.
Wimbledon (1999) in his Appendix 1 provides the draft format for the Global GEOSITE Inventory and Database (as at October 1997) and outlines the suggested procedure for an individual country to follow:
Š Create a network of informants in countries
Š Definition of regional/time Frameworks
Š National provisional Geosite selections
Š Regional comparisons and finalisation
Š Country selection of a WH indicative list of regional Geosite lists
Š Acceptance by GGWG
Š Proposal of WH sites by countries
Cleal et al. (1999) discusses the GEOSITES methodology, using examples from Great Britain.
Most recently the promotion of Global Geosites by UNESCO has waned, and support is no longer provided, and it has now been left to interested countries or groups to continue this work if they so desire.
Nevertheless, for Australia it is seen as important to have an agreed listing of major geological sites, whether these are called Geosites or by some other name, and at a time when national Australian government support for such heritage work is weakening, the Geological Society of Australia, as the major worker in this field for over 30 years, is the body best placed to carry out this task.
Australia is commonly known as the oldest continent. Zircons dated between 4300 and 4200 million years have been found in the Archean rocks of the Mt Narryer area of Western Australia, and the microfossils and stromatolites of the Pilbara, also in WA, are amongst the earliest known life on earth. The old shield which forms a major part of the Australian continent is largely a flat and low-lying plateau, tectonically quiet and with one of the lowest erosion rates known. Deep weathering profiles dating to the Mesozoic and even earlier have survived over long period of geological time, as have the corresponding ancient landscapes (Joyce 1999).
This contrasts with the northern hemisphere continents, where late-Tertiary and Quaternary uplift and extensive glacial erosion has given a very different landscape. Only in Tasmania and the higher parts of the southeastern Australia mainland can landscapes similar to those of Europe be found.
The study of geological heritage in the former Gondwana continents such as Africa, South America, India and Australia may need a different approach to that used elsewhere (Joyce 1999).
Geological heritage studies in Australia go back over 30 years to the first work by local Geological Society of Australia (GSA) groups in Queensland and South Australia. Earlier individual efforts were put into setting up notice boards and signs on individual sites. In the mid-1960s Divisions of the Society (corresponding to the Australian states & territories) organised Subcommittees of interested geologists and began a program of seeking out and promoting individual sites. Correspondence and visits to the UK by Maud McBriar of South Australia and other workers helped provide new ideas. In the mid-1970s, with the aid of government grants, programs of identifying, documenting, evaluating and recommending management of sites began across Australia (Joyce 1994c).
Reviews of Australian work are available in papers from two international conferences, the first held at Digne in France in 1991 (McBriar & Hasenohr 1994) and the second at Malvern U.K. in 1993 (Joyce 1994a).
The growth of geological heritage work in Australia
By the 1970s each Division had an active Subcommittee, with work being carried out in each of the six states and also the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Northern Territory (NT).
The establishment of the National Estate Grants Program in 1973 and the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) in 1975 provided the first of a long series of government grants for the study of features of Australia's National Estate, and nomination of these to the newly established Register of the National Estate. Grants totalling more than $320,000 over the subsequent 25 years have resulted in more than 25 substantial volumes of documentation.
The state-based Subcommittees developed their own approaches to heritage studies. Some produced overall inventories in one volume while other systematically worked across their state producing a series of volumes. Some volumes were printed in hundreds of copies and distributed and sold widely, while others were only in a few reference copies, as in South Australia, but with photocopies of appropriate sections sent to selected state government and local government bodies. Some Subcommittees have made many nominations to the Register of the National Estate in Canberra, while others have made few. Where state Registers are available, they have sometimes also been used to register geological sites. Booklets on local geology within states, which have included heritage information, have also been produced in Queensland.
A Standing Committee of the GSA was established in 1974 to help with the exchange of ideas between the seven subcommittees operating at that time —Queensland, NSW, ACT (with NT), Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia and Western Australia. The recent formation of a new Division in the Northern Territory and so a new Subcommittee will bring the total of Subcommittees to eight.
In 1992 a policy was prepared by the Society which laid down future plans for the Standing Committee’s work, and also clarified the Society’s role in relationship to World Heritage activities. The Standing Committee through its convener is responsible for providing advice to the Executive or Council of the Society in response to requests on World Heritage matters from the Australian Government. The main objective of the Standing Committee for Geological Heritage is to promote the understanding and conservation of the geological heritage of Australia. The history of the Standing Committee has been reviewed by Joyce (1994c).
Techniques used in geological studies in Australia
Techniques developed by the Nature Conservancy Commission in the UK were an important influence on GSA work in Australia. GSA subcommittees in each state of Australia initially developed methods of determining the significance of a site independently. Methods of assessing significance, from local or regional to national or international level, were also developed for the Register of the National Estate by the Australian Heritage Commission, and these built on some of the expertise of the GSA subcommittees in its approach to the assessment of geological features. The AHC approach to the classification and assessment of natural sites, using a detailed set of criteria, in turn exerted its influence on Society work.
Each Australian state and territory also looked to some extent at work going on in other parts of Australia, and in two workshops in 1982 and 1984 discussions were held between the Subcommittees in an attempt to achieve some degree of uniformity. However states and territories continued largely to follow their own methods.
A consolidated list of Australian sites of International and National significance, drawn from published and unpublished Subcommittee documentation, was published in 1986 (Cochrane & Joyce 1986).
The Society’s statement on policy in 1992 included the recommended use of the term Significant Geological Feature, and the definition given was:
“Significant geological features are those features of special scientific or educational value which form the essential basis of geological education, research and reference. These features are considered by the geological community to be worthy of protection and preservation.”
This definition emphasises the two-fold use of features in education, and for scientific research and as reference sites, e.g. type localities and sections.
A review of the work of the GSA and the AHC in assessing the significance of geological heritage sites in Australia, from the local level to World Heritage, was published in 1994 (Joyce 1994b).
A grant from the AHC enabled the GSA’s Standing Committee members and other interested heritage workers to meet at two workshops in Canberra and prepare a two-volume methodology report, which will assist with future geological heritage work in Australia. The assessment volume (Joyce 1995a) was prepared in limited numbers, but its contents are available on disk and may be consulted also via the Web (see Web site in the reference list). The report includes a review of geological heritage methodologies used in Australia and overseas (Joyce 1995b), and a list of heritage publications by the Society.
The result of the Geological Society of Australia’s work is that Australia has for many years been recognised internationally as a leader in the field of geological conservation.
The Australian Heritage Commission was set up by the government of Australia in 1975. Among other things the Commission is to compile a Register of the National Estate. This is to include places of natural, historic and Aboriginal heritage which should be kept for present and future generations. The Society’s Subcommittees are regarded by the AHC as expert nominators to the Register of the National Estate. Several states also have heritage registers. In South Australia natural sites including geological sites can be listed on the State Heritage Register, but in Victoria the register grew out of an historic buildings register, to which only archaeological sites and shipwrecks have been added so far.
The National Trust of Australia consists of largely independent organisations in each state and while mainly concerned with historic buildings and related heritage such as gardens, they often also study and classify landscapes, including geological aspects, and include these on their registers.
Some other government-sponsored geological heritage studies
A major Victorian government sponsored study by Davey & White (1986) discussed the evaluation of the significance of caves and karst. Work at state government level includes consultant projects such as those of Rosengren in Victoria, including his recent study on the Late Cainozoic basaltic eruption points of Victoria (see Rosengren 1994) carried out with the GSA’s Victorian Subcommittee and the National Trust of Australia (Victoria). A methodology to include geomorphological and soil features has been developed in the Forestry, and Parks and Wildlife agencies of the Tasmanian government (Dixon, Houshold, & Pemberton, 1997).
The Australian Natural Heritage Charter 1996 funded by the AHC was based in part on the Australia ICOMOS Burra Charter of 1992 which provided guidelines for places with both natural and cultural values. The Natural Charter provides standards and principles for the conservation of places of natural heritage significance. A Natural Heritage Places handbook published in 1998 provides further assistance in applying the Charter to determine significance and prepare conservation and management plans.
National Parks in each state and in the territories provide valuable protection and management for many geological heritage sites; often the initial impetus for setting up such parks has been their geological features and landscape values. National Park status is also used to provide management of Australia’s numerous World Heritage areas, many of which are of geological and landscape significance e.g. the Riversleigh and Naracoorte fossil areas.
Other reserves which provide some protection for geological sites include road reserves, water reserves, state flora & fauna reserves, and in Victoria, for example, the small geological sites set up by the state Land Conservation Council.
However, few parks services employ or work with geologists, and management and interpretation is strongly biased towards biological and ecological aspects. Geological research including sampling is restricted in National Parks, and new geological work by exploration or mining companies is usually banned. There have been significant problems of management in World Heritage areas such as the Willandra Lakes, and many National Parks are poorly funded and interpreted.
The future of geological heritage work in Australia
Š There is a need to review and update past state and national work on reports and files, now often 20 or more years old. This is particularly important when planning issues arise; documentation must be able to stand up to close scrutiny.
Š Future lack of national funding – new sources of funding must be found if work is to continue, and Australian workers must increasingly look to state or even local sources of support.
Š As the Australian government continues its current program of devolving responsibilities to the states, heritage workers must increase cooperation with the states & begin using state registers.
Š World Heritage listing in Australia continues to grow, with the Blue Mountains in NSW a recent nomination. Australian geologists must play their part in seeing geological heritage is fairly treated in current and new World heritage areas.
A number of listings of Australian geological heritage sites have been prepared.
1. In 1986 a summary based on the work of the GSA at State levels was prepared for the AHC (Cochrane & Joyce 1986). This was the first report to list sites of International, National, Regional and Local Significance for all of Australia (see Table 1).
2. In 1991 a short list of sites of possible International or World Heritage significance was prepared for the GILGES meeting in Paris in February 1991 (Joyce 1991). Following discussion at that meeting, a revised list of 16 sites for Australia appeared in the report by Cowie (1992) (see Table 2).
A discussion of these lists appeared in a paper published after the Malvern Conference of 1993 (Joyce 1994a) (see Table 3).
3. Current World Heritage listings of geological sites in Australia appear in Dingwall et al. (2005) (see Table 4).
4. The Australian Heritage Commission commissioned an independent review of geological heritage sites in Australia, considering all published material, and a two volume report appeared in 2001, covering rocks and landforms (Volume 1) and fossils (Volume 2) - see Yeates (2001a, b) and Table 5.
In summary, the various documents on the listings of geological heritage sites in Australia indicate a total of xx sites, divided approximately into xx rock, mineral and stratigraphic sites, xx fossil sites, and xx landform and process sites (see Table x).
Comments by Yeates (2001a, b) suggest the current listings will need an additional xx sites to approach a level of completeness. In particular, xx further fossil sites may be needed, and xx further landform and process sites, particularly coastal, tropical savannah, and weathering (regolith) sites.
The planned new Geosites program begins a process in which interested parties will be consulted to help define framework elements for Australian Geosites. The Geological Society and the Australian Heritage Commission have been the main bodies concerned with geological heritage in the past, and some thirty reports have been prepared, covering most parts of Australia. Several overall listings have also been prepared. Many sites have been listed on the national Register of the National Estate maintained by the AHC.
The independent review for the AHC of geological heritage sites in Australia in 2001, covering rocks and landforms (Volume 1) and fossils (Volume 2) - see Yeates (2001a, b) will provide a starting point for the new Geosites program.
As well as the GSA, and the AHC, other groups to be consulted include the national government’s geological survey, state government geological surveys and departments of environment and conservation, including the active forestry groups in Tasmania, and the national government’s World Heritage section.
A new framework will be developed, appropriate for the geological history and features of Australia, to guide the study, as described in Wimbledon (1999) and Dingwall et al. (2005).
A set of Geosites will then be prepared for Australia. With successive reviews and consultation, additional sites may then have to be added and others deleted to complete the final definitive listing.
This listing will be of significant value to geological heritage work in Australia, and will justify the work involved. The results will also be communicated to IUGS and UNESCO as part of the priorities for conservation in the global context, including World Heritage.
The URL is:
Cleal, C.J., Thomas, B.A., Bevins, R.E. & Wimbledon, W.A.P. 1999. GEOSITES – an international geoconservation initiative. Geology Today, March-April 1999, pp. 64-68.
Cochrane, R.M. and Joyce, E.B., 1986. Geological Features of National and International Significance in Australia. A report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission, May, 1986. Federal Committee for Geological Monuments, Geological Society of Australia Inc.
Cowie, J.W., 1992. Report of Task Force Meeting, Paris, France, February 1991. UNESCO World Heritage Convention, Working Group on Geological (inc. Fossil) Sites, IUGS Secretariat, Norway.
Cowie, J.W. & Wimbledon, W.A.P., 1994. The World Heritage List and its relevance to geology, In O’Halloran, D., Green, C., Harley, M., Stanley, M. and Knill, J. (eds), Geological and Landscape Conservation, Geological Society, London, pp.71-73.
Davey, A.G. & White, S.1986. Victorian Caves and Karst: Strategies for Management and Cataloguing. A report to the Caves Classification Committee, Department of Conservation, Forests and Lands, Victoria, 315pp.
Dingwall, P., Weighell, T. & Badman, T., 2005. GEOLOGICAL WORLD HERITAGE: A GLOBAL FRAMEWORK, A Contribution to the Global Theme Study of World Heritage Natural Sites, Protected Area Programme, IUCN, 51pp.
Dixon, G., Houshold, I. & Pemberton, M. 1997. Geoconservation in Tasmania – Wizards of Oz! Earth Heritage, 8, pp.14-15.
Joyce, E.B. 1991 Pacific and Antarctic areas, World Heritage List, Geological Sites. Unpublished document prepared for the Meeting of the World Heritage Working Group Task Force on a Global Inventory of Geological and Fossil Sites held in Paris, 11-13 February, 1991. 10pp. and 2 maps.
Joyce, E.B., 1994a. Keynote address—Identifying geological features of international significance: the Pacific Way. In O’Halloran, D., Green, C., Harley, M., Stanley, M. & Knill, J. (eds), Geological and Landscape Conservation, Geological Society, London, pp. 507-513.
Joyce, E.B. 1994b. Assessing the significance of geological heritage sites: from the local level to world heritage. Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on the Conservation of Our Geological Heritage, Digne les Bains, 11-16 June 1991. Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, n.s.165, 37-43.
Joyce, E.B. 1994c. Geological Heritage Committee. In Cooper, B.J. and Branagan, D.F. (eds) Rock Me Hard... Rock Me Soft... A History of the Geological Society of Australia Incorporated. Geological Society of Australia, Sydney, pp.30-36.
Joyce, E. B. 1995a. Assessing the Significance of Geological Heritage: A methodology study for the Australian Heritage Commission. A report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission by the Standing Committee for Geological Heritage of the Geological Society of Australia Inc.19pp.
Joyce, E. B. 1995b. A review of geological heritage methodologies, with a bibliography of publications and reports on the methodology of geological heritage in Australia and overseas, in Joyce, E. B. Assessing the Significance of Geological Heritage: A methodology study for the Australian Heritage Commission. A report prepared for the Australian Heritage Commission by the Standing Committee for Geological Heritage of the Geological Society of Australia Inc. pp. A1.1-A1.23. (Available on web at URL: xx).
Joyce, Bernie. 1999. Different thinking: The oldest continent. Earth Heritage 12: pp.11-13.
McBriar, E.M. & Hasenohr, P. 1994. Australian initiatives in earth science conservation. Proceedings of the 1st International Symposium on the Conservation of Our Geological Heritage, Digne les Bains, 11-16 June 1991. Mémoires de la Société géologique de France, n.s. 165, pp.75-79.
Reynard, E. 2004. Geosite, in Goudie, A. (editor), Encyclopedia of Geomorphology, London, Routledge, pp.440.
Rosengren, N. 1994. Eruption Points of the Newer Volcanics Province of Victoria. National Trust of Australia (Victoria) & Geological Society of Australia (Victorian Division), 387pp.
Wimbledon, W.A.P. 1999. Geosites - an IUGS initiative: science supported by conservation. Geoitalia 4, pp.40-43.
Wimbledon, W.A.P. 1999. GEOSITES – an International Union of Geological Sciences initiative to conserve our geological heritage, in Alexandrowicz, Z. (editor) Representative Geosites of central Europe, Proceedings of the Central Europe Working Group Workshop ProGeo’97, Poland, Krakow, October 14-17, 1997. Polish Geological Institute Special Papers, 2, 1999. pp.5-8.
Yeates, A. N. 2001a. An assessment of progress made towards the nomination of Australian geological sites having National or International significance. Volume 1: rocks and landforms. Report for the Australian Heritage Commission, 341pp.
Yeates, A. N. 2001b. An assessment of progress made towards the nomination of Australian geological sites having National or International significance. Volume 2: fossils. Report for the Australian Heritage Commission, 182pp.
Table 1: Summary of listing in Cochrane & Joyce (1986).
Table 2: Global Indicative List of Geological Sites (GILGES) for Australia, Paris 1991 (Cowie 1992).
Table 3: Number of sites of international significance for Australia, as suggested in Joyce 1994a).
Table 4: Current World Heritage listing for Australia (Dingwall et al. (2005).
Table 5: Listings in Yeates (2001a, b)
(8 to be selected from 22 listed below)
Cochrane & Joyce 1986 cover
Rosengren 1994 cover
The well-illustrated government-sponsored colour leaflet for tourist use, promoting the Volcanoes Discovery Trail in Western Victoria and adjacent South Australia.
The new roadside interpretive sign above the Byaduk valley lava flow of late Quaternary age, with Mt Napier lava shield and scoria cones on the skyline.
Leaflet on the Fleurieu Peninsula in South Australia.
Methodology book cover.
Members of the GSA Standing Committee for Geological Heritage 2002
Hamelin Pool (Shark Bay WH area) Stromatolite
Nullarbor Plain karst and caves, ocean cliffs
Dunes (desert, Eucla?)
Noorlangie Rock, Kakadu, looking north to the floodplain of the South Alligator River, with the escarpment of Proterozoic sandstone at the edge of the Arnhem Land Plateau to the right; the type of site now also considered important for its geological
Regolith at Coober Pedy or ? from the air - colour.
A Tasmanian Quaternary glacial erratic.
Mungo lake and lunette – World Heritage, NSW.
Bungle Bungles, WA.
Lake Tyrrell aerial view.
Fossils at Riversleigh.
Selwyn’s Pavement - Permian (Gondwana) glacials, SA.
Viewpoint/historic site e.g. Blue Mountains