Geological Renaissance in Florence 2004

Title: Geological Renaissance in Florence 2004
Author: Susan Landon
Publication: The Outcrop, November 2004, p. 18-19

In August, I was fortunate to be one of eight official US delegates to the 32nd International Geological Congress (IGC) held in Florence, Italy. The theme of the Congress was “From the Mediterranean Area Toward a Global Geological Renaissance: Geology, Natural Hazards, and Cultural Heritage.” There were over 7000 registrants representing roughly 150 countries! The United States was well represented with 675 participants including a healthy group from Colorado. Nearly 8000 abstracts were submitted and there was a surprisingly low no-show rate. The Italians hosted one of the best-organized and implemented meetings that I have ever attended. Despite the unexpectedly large crowd the meetings ran very smoothly. Florence has a well-designed convention facility housed within the Fortezza da Basso, a citadel built by the Medici family in 1534.

The highlight of participation in an International Congress is the opportunity to meet and interact with geologists from all over the world and hear what others are doing in the geosciences. I participated in a one-day field trip and there were 11 countries represented on a single bus!

Susan Landon is interviewed by Rome TV with the Roman Forum in the background.

The technical sessions covered a broad spectrum of geology including resource geology with talks on oil and gas exploration, especially in the Mediterranean region. The location of the meeting in a geologically active area like Italy resulted in some very interesting talks on geologic hazards, etc. In the exhibit hall, several government agencies showed riveting video of eruptions, tsunamis, landslides, etc., and discussed the clever techniques being employed to protect human life and property. The growing popularity of a fairly new concept, geoparks, was highlighted in several sessions. These areas are identified based on their geologic resources, designed by earth scientists, and staffed by earth scientists. Begun in Europe, they are now very popular destinations in China where a growing middle class is discovering tourism. Our National Park Service could benefit from following this lead.

The International Geological Congress is a nonprofit scientific and educational organization whose meetings are held in collaboration with the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The main purpose of the Congress is to encourage the advancement of fundamental and applied research in the earth sciences worldwide.

colosseum diagram_final
Diagram illustrating the geology under the Colosseum. The Colosseum is built from blocks of welded scoria from the Alban Hills located a few miles south of Rome. This volcanic center is still considered active. (Diagram from Funiciello, R., G. Giordano, B. Adanti, C. Giampaolo, and M. Parotto, 2004, Walking through downtown Roma: a discovery tour on the key role of geology in the history and urban development of the city: 32nd International Geological Congress Guidebook D05, 14 p.)

During the mid-19th century, the necessity of holding an international congress was strongly felt among the community of geologists in Europe and North America. During the 1875 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science held in Buffalo, New York, a committee was formed to consider the organization of an international congress on geology. The original membership in this committee included James Hall (President, USA), T. Sterry Hunt (Secretary, Canada), William B. Rogers (USA), J. William Dawson (Canada), John S. Newberry (USA), Charles H. Hitchcock (USA), Raphael Pumpelly (USA), J. P. Lesley (USA), Thomas H. Huxley (UK), Otto Torell (Sweden), and E.H. de Baumhauer (Netherlands). The Committee persuaded the French Government to provide support for convening an international gathering and the First International Geological Congress was held during the Paris Exposition, with 310 members from 23 countries in attendance. Since then, Congresses have been hosted by more than 21 countries throughout the world at 3- to 5-year intervals. The 33rd Session will be held in August 2008 in Oslo, Norway, and the 34th Session is planned for Brisbane, Australia, in August 2012.

Founded in 1961, the IUGS, with more than 110 national members, is one of the world’s largest and most active non-governmental scientific organizations. The Union promotes and supports the study of geological problems of global significance, and facilitates international and inter-disciplinary cooperation in the earth sciences. The U.S. National Committee on the Geological Sciences housed in the National Research Council represents the United States.

Oh, yes, the one-day field trip examined geological influence on the development of the city of Rome. Romans may have copied their art from the Greeks but they were generally masters at engineering geology. As official guests of the City of Rome, we were guided by an engineering geologist, a decorative stone expert, an archaeologist, and a sculptor/restoration specialist. The first stop overlooked the Colosseum, finished in 80 A.D, where we could easily see the state of preservation. Most of us can remember from photos that half of the Colosseum has weathered 2000 years of history fairly well with the outside wall relatively intact. The other half has suffered from repeated earthquakes. An aerial photo with super-imposed subsurface data clearly showed that the poorly preserved side was built on fill. The well-preserved part of the structure is on bedrock.