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Geology and Soils

Geology is the composition and properties of geologic materials (rocks and sediments) underground and outcropping at the land’s surface. It includes bedrock, aquifers, geomorphology for land and marine environments, mineral resources and overlying soils. Soil is the upper part of the Earth’s crust, formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms.

Why is this theme fundamental?
Geology data can reveal risks to population in the form of earthquakes, volcanoes and landslides; and opportunities in the form of aquifers, mineral and fossil fuel resources.

The interface between rock, air and water hosts most of the biosphere. Geology reveals the parent material for soils which is a key factor in vegetative land cover. This data can also analyse the potential and limitations for agricultural production.

As population increases, the need for – and understanding of – reliable and sustainable practices to provide food, fuel, and raw materials for economies is increasingly essential. Geology and soils information has the potential to better inform us about best practices in land management, hazard avoidance, soil erosion or salinity, soil pollution, nuclear waste storage, crop suitability, and conditions that affect the structural engineering of buildings.

Which sustainable development goals (SDGs) will it help to meet?
SDGs 2,3,6,7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, and 15 require geology and soils data.

Geospatial data features in more detail
Geology is generally characterised according to composition, structure and age. It also provides knowledge about aquifers, i.e. subsurface units of rocks or sediments of sufficient porosity and permeability to allow either a significant flow of groundwater or the abstraction of significant quantities of groundwater. Aquifers have a cross linkage to groundwater in the Water theme.

Geology and Soils features and attributes will vary in significance by area. For example, soil order, permeability, and depth, and other factors that directly determine agricultural capabilities should be foremost in regions where agriculture does, or could, form a major part of the economy.

Soils include permafrost, wetlands, non-soil environments, and underwater sediments.

Possible sources of data
  • Global Lithological Map (GLiM);
  • OneGeology; and,
  • National Geologic Surveys.
  • Harmonized World Soils Database; and,
  • National Soil Surveys.

Existing Data Standards
Note: This is indicative. Other lists of standards exist and UN-GGIM will seek to work with thematic experts to develop a list of relevant data standards.

INSPIRE Data specifications on Geology, Soils and Mineral Resources:
  • Geology: USGS NCGMP’09, and GEOSciML;
  • Soils: FAO: World Reference Base for Soils Resources 2006; and,
  • USDA NRCS SSURGO Data Model.