by Terri Cook, Science and travel writer – Down to Earth Science, LLC

As a science and travel writer, I’ve had the privilege of traveling extensively, often with my family. A few years ago on the beautiful island of Bali, we visited Indonesia’s Batur Global Geopark, where we hiked up Mount Batur, the park’s signature stratovolcano, from whose summit we witnessed a stunning sunrise and enjoyed a tasty breakfast that included eggs hard boiled in the volcano’s steaming fumaroles. Throughout the day, our local guide regaled us with stories about the volcano and the surrounding scenery that he had first heard as a child.

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Panorama of Mount Batur, Batur Global Geopark – Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Bali, Indonesia’s top tourist destination, is famous for its sandy beaches and misty mountains, which are part of a long, curving chain of volcanically active islands. The character and distinguishing features of this landscape control which plants and animals thrive here and in turn help shape nearly every aspect of Balinese society, from its social fabric to its friendly, hospitable culture.

This deeply rooted bond between people and their land lies at the heart of geoheritage, the concept of a shared geological record that embodies the connection between landscapes, people, and the processes that have formed, and continue to shape, our planet. Through the conservation and promotion of geological features with significant scientific, cultural, educational, or historical value, geoheritage highlights and celebrates this linkage and helps reconnect people to our remarkable planet — and each other.

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Hiking the crater rim of Mount Batur, Batur Global Geopark, Indonesia Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

Geoheritage sites play a key role in developing our understanding of Earth’s long history and advancing scientific knowledge about societally important topics including natural hazards, soil formation, climate and environmental change, and the evolution of life. Because the evidence of our planet’s dynamic history is preserved solely in the rock record, it’s crucial to conserve this heritage. In the U.S., sites of geological significance have been protected at a variety of management levels and are administered by state and federal agencies, such as the National Park Service, as well as local entities.

Internationally, the most significant framework to preserve Earth’s outstanding geoheritage sites is the Global Geoparks Network, which includes Batur Global Geopark. In addition to hosting geology of international significance, global geoparks are also intended to promote “geotourism” by capitalizing on the special geologic features within their borders to attract visitors, who gain insight into the geologic events that created them through educational programming.

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Cliffs of Moher, Burren and Cliffs of Moher Geopark, Ireland – Credit: Terri Cook and Lon Abbott

In 2012, the Geological Society of America (GSA) issued a position statement supporting the concept of geoheritage and endorsing U.S. participation in this network. GSA has recently updated this statement to reflect changes in the geoheritage movement both within the U.S. and abroad.

One key change occurred in November 2015, when the network was officially adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Along with the World Heritage and Biosphere Reserve programs, the Global Geoparks Network now comprises the most significant international framework to promote the sustainable development of the planet’s outstanding cultural, biological and geological sites. The global geopark concept has been widely embraced, and the network has quickly expanded to include 127 geoparks in 35 countries, including two in Canada and two admitted in May in Mexico. Although the U.S. has many sites that could potentially be designated UNESCO Global Geoparks, our country is not currently represented.

St. Martins Sea Caves, New Brunswick, Canada – Credit: Stonehammer Geopark

That may soon change, according to Tom Casadevall, a scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey and a leading advocate for geoheritage in the U.S. To increase awareness of geoheritage and the UNESCO Global Geoparks Program, Casadevall helped establish the U.S. Geoheritage and Geoparks Advisory Group, a programmatic development activity of the U.S. National Committee for the International Union of Geological Sciences via sponsorship through the National Academy of Sciences. Members include Casadevall; Wesley Hill, the Secretary General of the Geoheritage Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature; David Steensen, Chief of the National Park Service’s Geologic Resources Division; Sarah Gaines, a Senior Fellow at the University of Rhode Island’s Coastal Institute and a former Earth Science program specialist at UNESCO; and myself.

Panorama of Horseshoe Bend from Grandview, New River Gorge National River – Credit: National Park Service

Since the committee’s formation, a number of sites from across the U.S. have expressed interest in becoming UNESCO Global Geoparks, says Casadevall, and two sites — Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula and a three-county region in southern West Virginia — have begun the process of applying, which can take several years. The advisory group has also developed a website,, as a resource for anyone interested in learning more about geoheritage and the Global Geoparks Network.

Copper and calcite from the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan – Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Global Geoparks don’t carry any formal legislative designation, and the host nation and, if applicable, private landholders retain complete control over the land. But each geopark must be protected and comprehensively managed in order to keep its UNESCO status.  “There are many good options available in the U.S. to protect sites with geology of international significance,” says Casadevall, “but I have seen first-hand the economic, educational, and social benefits that can be derived from geotourism, and I believe that American communities could benefit from the geoparks approach.”

Terri Cook is a freelance science and travel writer based in Boulder, Colorado.