Mapping of geodiversity is insufficient – New methods for assessing landscape and even continental scale geodiversity remind us of the importance of non-living diversity for nature and societies

Geodiversity refers to the abiotic diversity of the Earth's surface and subsurface, which is an important component of natural systems. Geodiversity is affected by land use, construction, and mining, and has only recently received attention in different sectors of society.
Small flowers on a sandy slope.
Plants, organisms and natural systems are affected by the diversity in abiotic nature. The photo is from the Rokua UNESCO Global Geopark area in Finland. Photo by Helena Tukiainen

One of the world's oldest scientific journals, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, published a theme issue on 12 February 2024, with four of the studies led by the Geography Research Unit of the University of Oulu, Finland. Researchers from the University of Oulu are doing internationally significant research on geodiversity and its assessment. New mapping methods will raise awareness, serve society and also help protect geodiversity as part of nature's diversity natural diversity.

Geodiversity refers to the diversity of non-living nature above and below the Earth's surface, including soils, rocks, landforms and water bodies. Geodiversity serves as a platform for biodiversity, enabling a diversity of organisms and ecosystems.

Geodiversity information is needed for sustainable development and to address pressing global problems. For example, the sufficiency of battery minerals, sustainable energy production, and slowing down the loss of biodiversity are all linked to geodiversity. However, its importance is largely ignored, which can lead to inadequate debate and decision-making, for example in land use. Rare rocks and minerals are vulnerable to mining activities and excessive tourism can cause erosion in sensitive environments.

While a system for classifying organisms is essential for biodiversity research, no such system is available for abiotic nature. "The taxonomy or classification system we have developed can be used to observe geodiversity across the globe and for different purposes," says Professor Jan Hjort.

In addition to the first comprehensive classification system, the researchers developed methods for mapping geodiversity at different scales: local, landscape and even continental.

A new local-scale mapping method was tested at the Rokua UNESCO Global Geopark, Finland. "A relatively simple survey method can be used to gather information for promoting nature conservation and studying biodiversity," says postdoctoral researcher Helena Tukiainen. "Similarly, a method to support geoconservation was developed for landscape-level research," adds Janne Alahuhta, a senior researcher.

A key gap in geodiversity research has been the poor availability of open data. The study, led by doctoral researcher Maija Toivanen, produced a comprehensive European geodiversity database that can be freely downloaded and used: "The developed method could quite easily be applied to mapping geodiversity on other continents, too."

According to the researchers, geodiversity information is increasingly being taken into account in different areas of society. For example, the environmental strategies of responsible.IT companies already acknowledge geodiversity and its significance to their business, for example in material use.

In addition to direct benefits, geodiversity provides indirect ecosystem services to people. Beautiful landscapes are often the first thing we notice in nature. Interesting landforms such as glacial ridges and steep waterfalls attract tourists from far and wide. A diverse landscape and beautiful scenery can also support physical and mental health.

Geodiversity map of Europe

An example of continental geodiversity assessment as georichness in 1-km grid across Europe. Georichness is the sum of individual geological (bedrock and soil), geomorphological and hydrological features in a gridcell. Data and figure is from the study led by Maija Toivanen.

Four new studies were published in the prestigious Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A on 12 February 2024.

  • Hjort J, Seijmonsbergen AC, Kemppinen J, Tukiainen H, Maliniemi T, Gordon JE, Alahuhta J, Gray M. 2024 Towards a taxonomy of geodiversity. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.
  • Alahuhta J, García-Girón J, Hjort J, Salminen H, Tukiainen H, Heino J. 2024. Quantitative measurement of geodiversity uniqueness: research implications and conservation applications. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.
  • Toivanen M et al. 2024. Geodiversity data for Europe. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.
  • Tukiainen H, Maliniemi T, Brilha J, Alahuhta J, Hjort J. 2024 A framework for quantifying geodiversity at the local scale: a case study from the Rokua UNESCO Global Geopark. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A.

Learn more about the geography research at the University of Oulu

Last updated: 19.2.2024