Thursday, 22 June 2017

Our rocks and landforms: the 'great stone book' of Scotland...by Hugh Barron

Siccar Point, Berwickshire. Arguably one of the most important
 geological sites in the world.
Scotland has an outstanding diversity of rocks and landforms created by natural processes over the last 3 billion years or more of the Earth’s existence. They are part of Scotland’s rich geodiversity – the variety of rocks, minerals, fossils, landforms, sediments and soils, and the natural processes that form and alter them. Together, the particular elements of geodiversity record the Earth’s history, as pages of a 'great stone book', and form part of our natural heritage to be passed on to future generations.

Internationally, Scotland is regarded as the birthplace of modern geoscience, led by geologist James Hutton in the late 18th century. At Siccar Point in Berwickshire, Hutton and  John Playfair (Scottish Geologist and mathematician) unlocked ‘the abyss of time’ and presented a vision of a living world that recognised the crucial links between geology, soils, plants, animals and human beings. Our geodiversity is an asset of national and international importance with many sites celebrated around the world and contributing key aspects of world geoheritage. Our geodiversity is vital for interpreting past geological processes of global significance, such as plate tectonics, mountain building, volcanism, carbon cycling and glaciation and some of Scotland’s rocks also contain a rich variety of fossils that have significantly advanced our understanding of the evolution of life.

Geodiversity is vital as the foundation for biodiversity. The nation’s diverse assemblage of landforms, soils, water, nutrients and natural processes support nationally and internationally important terrestrial and marine ecosystems and species, and Scottish soils store large amounts of carbon, an important consideration in climate change mitigation. We live in a dynamic landscape where understanding of river, coastal, subsurface and slope processes are a vital part of nature-based solutions to management of hazards such as flooding, sea-level rise, coastal erosion, subsidence and landslides.

On land and sea, geodiversity makes a significant contribution to Scotland’s economy as a source of energy and materials, playing a critical role in the:
  • exploration and production of mineral resources such as oil, gas and building materials;
  • development of infrastructure, waste storage and remediation of pollution;
  • research and development of carbon capture and storage (CCS), geothermal energy and subsurface energy storage;
  • location of wind and hydro-power renewable resources;
  • provision of ecosystem services.
The distribution of rocks and landforms has shaped human activity in Scotland, from the earliest Palaeolithic settlers up to the present day, influencing sites of settlement, land use and water sources, while the variety of Scotland’s building stone resource is reflected in the local character and distinctiveness of our built environment. Scotland’s geodiversity forms the bedrock of our varied landscapes and spectacular scenery that attracts visitors from around the world and forms a vital part of our economy. Our landscapes also provide the stage for diverse recreation and outdoor activities, contributing to the economy and people's health and wellbeing.

Our geodiversity has been a powerful influence on cultural and intellectual development, as a source of inspiration for art, sculpture, music, poetry, literature and science. It forms part of our ‘sense of place’ and provides what Neal Ascherson called our ‘stone voices’ – “the way human experience in Scotland has been built so intimately into its geology that a people and its stones form a single cultural landscape.”

But perhaps the best description of the importance of geodiversity to Scotland can be found in the Scotland’s Geodiversity Charter (the first of its type in the world) prepared by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and partners. It presents a vision that geodiversity is “recognised as an integral and vital part of our environment, economy, heritage and future sustainability to be safeguarded for existing and future generations in Scotland”.

This blog was first published in Scotland's Environment's blog section 'Our rocks and landforms: the great stone book of Scotland'. Over the next few weeks the blog will be exploring the exciting projects that their partners are working on in this area and looking at the maps, data tools and information available on their website. 

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