Geodiversity, the basis of ecosystems and crucial for the sustainable development of the planet

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Today, October 6 is the
International Geodiversity Day
a date proclaimed by UNESCO in 2021. This year, under the motto “Geodiversity is for everyone”, is pursued. reflect that geodiversity is all around us and affects the lives of all people everywhere in the world and an appeal is made to the international community to boost the potential of the geosciences.

The Natural Heritage and Biodiversity Law (Law 42/2007) includes among its definitions that of geodiversity, understood as “the variety of geological elements, including rocks, minerals, fossils, soils, landforms, geological formations and units, and landscapes that are the product and record of the Earth’s evolution”.

For its part, UNESCO defines the term as an essential part of nature that is not alive, including the above terrestrial components and categorizing geodiversity as the silent partner of biodiversity, since all the world’s ecosystems depend on some element of geodiversity for their existence.

As such, geodiversity underpins food production, water management and energy production. It is also essential for moving towards the ecological transition, as mineral resources can create wealth and jobs while playing an essential role in the well-being of living beings and the sustainable development of the planet.

Among its benefits or characteristics, geodiversity provides natural resources of geological origin, such as mineral deposits and energy resources (coal, oil, gas), aquifers and water resources. It is also home to the flora and fauna of a territory and is key to responding to challenges such as climate change and climate adaptation. In addition, it helps to understand and predict natural hazards, and to reduce the risk of natural disasters through scientific knowledge about landslides, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

At the national level, Spain is one of the European countries with the greatest geological diversity. This variety is due to events as diverse as continental collisions, the opening and closing of oceans, the creation of mountain ranges, the razing of these by erosion or glaciations, but also to other geological processes such as the erosion of rivers, the variation of the coastline or the formation of rocks in continental and marine environments.

Thus, geodiversity throughout history has supplied a variety of geological resources to ancient civilizations in Spain, such as copper from the Riotinto Mines or gold from Las Médulas. At present, the exploitation of industrial rocks such as granite and slate is important, making Spain one of the countries with the highest production of these materials worldwide.

It is also noted for having one of the richest paleontological records in Western Europe. In this sense, the city of Teruel is considered the Mecca of paleontology with a total of 60,000 fossils registered, deposits that are largely due to the particular Spanish geodiversity.

Geodiversity conditions the habitat of a region. Therefore, geological diversity and biodiversity are often closely related. Spain, due to its particular relief, is the richest country in Europe in terms of biodiversity, and also has a great potential for the use of its natural heritage through areas called geoparks.

According to UNESCO, geoparks are sites of international geological importance that combine land protection, education and sustainable development. The declaration of a geopark is based on three principles: the existence of a geological heritage that serves as a protagonist and driving force; the implementation of geoconservation initiatives; and the dissemination and promotion of socioeconomic and cultural development at the local level.

The UNESCO Global Geoparks Network has 195 geoparks in 48 countries, covering a total area of 486,709 km2, equivalent to twice the size of the United Kingdom. With 16 geoparks, Spain is the country with the second largest number in the world, after China. This year 2023, the last geopark to be added to the list was the
Cape Ortegal
in Galicia, where rocks that emerged from the depths of the Earth almost 400 million years ago can be observed.

In short, geodiversity plays a fundamental role in human well-being, sustainability and the conservation of the world’s heritage, issues that affect the entire planet and that motivate the commemoration of this international day.