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World Heritage Review 52: Earth heritage : A common past… and future
This issue of World Heritage is devoted to a number of truly extraordinary World Heritage sites that allow a better understanding of the history of the Earth and the formation of landscape. It is no surprise that UNESCO has acknowledged this diversity as the basis of the International Year of Planet Earth, a celebration that concludes in 2009. Representatives of two of the global networks working to support Earth sciences: Peter Bobrowsky, Secretary General of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), and Andrew Goudie, President of the International Association of Geomorphologists (IAG), shared with us their reflections on IYPE and the need to promote the role of Earth sciences in society.
The World Heritage List includes seventy-four sites whose outstanding universal value has been recognized under the selection criterion for geology and geomorphology. These exceptional places include many of the most spectacular landscapes found anywhere on Earth, and connect with the ‘deep time’ of the planet and the record of life demonstrated by the most dramatic fossil sites.
Many of the world’s islands, including Hawaii, the Canaries and the Galápagos, are of volcanic origin, and the process of their emergence has quite recently been made observable by the sudden appearance, in 1963, of the island of Surtsey off the coast of Iceland. Scientists have been studying Surtsey with the greatest attention ever since, and it was recognized as a World Heritage site in 2008. World Heritage institutions are now taking an active interest in geological values, and extending their interests to such deep-sea phenomena as the Mid- Atlantic Ridge.