Geology for Global Development

Geology for Global Development

Lessons from China (3) – Geotourism, A Case Study

In September 2012 I travelled to the Gansu Province of China to take part in the First International Symposium for New Techniques for Geohazards Research and Management. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been highlighting a number of issues, lessons and experiences from this trip. You can read the short archive of this series here. Future posts will examine areas relating to geohazards, disaster risk reduction and science communication – however today we touch on the important issue of geotourism.

The area of China that I visited last month had some of the most remarkable landscapes and scenery that I have personally witnessed. The combination of staggering mountains, vast desert and unusual rock formations leads to multiple opportunities to develop geotourism.

The Danxi-type rock formation is one such unusual formation. It’s vivid colouring and striped nature (a result of differing dominant minerals), dipping beds (caused by tectonic movement in the broader Himalyan regime) and striking erosional features (a result of both water and wind erosion) have resulted in a unique and truly beautiful sight. The Zhangye exposure of this formation is ranked one of the best in China. It is the only exposure of the formation that I have visited, but I was genuinely mesmerised by it and would love to see any better exposure.

Geotourism offers many important opportunities for communities, including: (1) Opportunities to promote and practice conservation, and protect important landscapes for future generations to enjoy. (2) Opportunities to develop geoscience education and communication, helping local communities and both national and international tourists understand the processes that shape our Earth, and finally. (3) An opportunity to develop local economies and provide employment. I was curious to see how the Chinese authorities organised their geotourism, in particular the level of conservation and education that was taking place.

In terms of conservation, I’d definitely rate the Zhangye Danxi as a good example. From small eco-buses taking people around a network of roads and good stopping places, to a well designed network of paths – the implemented measures prevented significant human erosion of the landscapes and multiple cars, coaches and motorbikes travelling around the area. There was little sign of any human activity on the main landscape and very little rubbish or waste spoiling the landscape. People visit these areas to get the best views, the best photographs and enjoy the landscape. Building strategic pathways on the landscape that offer you the chance to stand in places to get these ultimate views and photographs is a very clever way to prevent people wandering off the paths and onto the landscape. The paths had all been treated with appropriate colours so as to blend in to the natural environment and be fairly camouflaged.

In terms of education, unfortunately my Mandarin is not good enough to assess what was being told to those visiting the site. During each short leg of the minibus journey, the guide outlined some information about the site – but this was entirely, and in many ways understandable, aimed at Chinese national tourists. There was a definite absence of printed information (leaflets, guides and information boards) – which are commonly found in many western tourist areas, which was disappointing.

Finally, economic development – Geotourism offers significant opportunity to develop a sustainable, environmentally friendly way of creating jobs for the local population. From guides, office managers, shop-keepers and catering and transport – there are multiple opportunities for employment. The chinese seemed to have latched on to this, and there certainly seemed to be many people earning a living in one way or another from the Zhangye Danxi. Perhaps one area of concern would be the sustainability of some of the souvenirs – notably things such as corals – that were on sale not at this site, but at others and local markets.

Geotourism offers developing communities an exciting and dynamic way to promote education, conservation and sustainable development. As observed at the Zhangye Danxi formation, this can be done well (if not perfectly), protecting some valuable and unique landscapes.

Introducing ‘Geology for Global Development’

The EGU is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in the geosciences – for the benefit of humanity, worldwide. This is a vision that we at Geology for Global Development both applaud and strongly align ourselves with.

Good geoscience is essential to many of today’s global development challenges – a knowledge of geohazards, climate change, sustainable mining, hydrogeology, geotechnics, contaminant geology and agrogeology can inform and improve sustainable development, health, the access to and responsible management of natural resources, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and food security.

Since February 2011 we have been posting on a previous blogspot site with around 243 posts on topics from disaster risk reduction, water and sanitation in the developing world, and sustainable mining. This site will be staying live, and used as a resource archive. It is a pleasure to now be part of this exciting blog network (together with Matt Herod and Jon Tennant), and have the opportunity to share our work and the conversations we are having with a larger and broader community. Welcome to this new home for the blog of Geology for Global Development.

About ‘Geology for Global Development’

Geology for Global Development (GfGD) is a not-for profit organisation that recognises the significant contribution good geoscience can make to the fight against global poverty and the improvement of lives across the world. Our work is primarily with young geoscientists and is currently based in the UK, but with the aim of eventually expanding internationally.

With the significant opportunities for our subject to make a positive contribution to society, in particular the lives of some of the world’s poorest communities, we are working to better equip young geoscientists to play a bigger and more effective role within international development.

We are working to…

  1. Utilise experience and expertise in the wider geoscience community to alert young geoscientists to their role and responsibility in contributing to sustainable and effective development, particularly in the developing world.
  2. Promote the positive international outcomes that can come from improving the experience base of young geoscientists, to politicians, policy-makers, industry, commerce, the media and the general public.
  3. Improve opportunities for young geoscientists to develop understanding, inter-personal and communication skills, in order to promote both better cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary work.
  4. Establish opportunities for young geoscientists to gain practical work experience in the development sector and developing countries.

The ‘Geology for Global Development’ Blog

This blog will aim to discuss, promote and broaden understanding of the contribution geoscientists can make to development. Through our articles and discussion we hope to support both young and more experienced geoscientists in the growth of appropriate skills and knowledge, including both technical geoscience and ‘soft’ social development understanding. We’ll be keeping you up-to-date with the wider work we are doing, opportunities to get involved, and useful resources that may be of interest.

This blog differs from many in that it is multi-authored, with regular ‘columnists’ Dan Sharpe (GfGD Ambassador, University of Leeds) and Alex Stubbings (IKON GeoPressure, Durham) joining GfGD Director, Joel Gill (King’s College London) and a range of guest bloggers (including many students and professionals). In the future we expect to grow this list of regular contributors and the management of the site will shift to our new Communications and Deputy Communications Officers.

Find out more about the work of Geology for Global Development at