Project 2015/2020

Geology, Environment and Human Behavior


Concerns are growing in face of the increasing stress imposed on geological resources, freshwater availability, global warming and the difficulties to achieve international consensus on specific strategies. This was the focus of discussion in the international conference on climate change organised in Nagoya in December 2010, by ICSS, ICSU and ICPHS. It is also a core concern of Portuguese authorities for over a decade now. But those difficulties are reinforced by the perspectives of social disruptions (evident across the globe) and a significant reduction of the economic growth rate.

Adaptation to climatic changes in the past was always a sequence that combined increased mobility (in almost all cases, people having to move in order to look for a better environment) and technical innovation. Only when both of these were present did humans succeed to avoid the trend that in general comes along with such changes: major extinctions. It may also be understood that mobility was primarily triggered by water shortage, but also by the factor of distance cost to basic geological resources required for the set of implements each society generated. Yet, the shortage of other basic resources can be solved through changing the economy or improving logistics, and this was increasingly the preferred solution of past societies, and namely in the industrial era.

Evolution has been associated to growing economic and social complexity, this engaging growing energy consumption. Without growth there is no sustainability, and without sustainability there will not be evolution, only collapse. With no surprise, all past civilisations collapsed from within, even when with the “help” of outsiders, due to the failure of the communication and transportation networks.

There are four main mechanisms that have conditioned transition periods, as the current one we’re living in: water management; mobility of people, artefacts and commodities (at the core of the European Union strategy); urbanisation; and technological divides and disruptions.

Traditional responses to social stress deriving from these mechanisms are of two types: social fission (lower energy costs, technological simplification – an impossible option today) or up- grading complexity (growing technological complexity with better use of geological and other resources, in the past always with higher energy costs).

CGeo scope, within the thematic line of Geology, Environment and Human Behaviour (GEHB), addresses these concerns, namely the need to secure economic growth lowering the energetic costs related to fossil energy consumption and the need to improve technological solutions that meet such objective through a better use of geological resources.

This line follows a distinct strategy than the other two. The “Stratigraphy and Geological Resources” line is primarily concerned with the identification and characterization of resources, whereas the “Knowledge Socialization” line deals with delivering technological solutions and communicating geosciences knowledge to wider audiences. The GEHB line is designed to build the multidisciplinary framework of CGeo under its global aims.

Human adaptations to contextual changes are processes where each human group faces the relation involving environment, society and economics through its own cultural approach. This is a compound of increased knowledge (socially generated and transmitted) and logistics (practical strategies to meet humans’ needs, based on knowledge and experimentation). This thematic line focuses in producing knowledge in this specific interface between learning the potential of geological items and technically (and socially) coping with required constraints in its use.

The issue of energy remains at the core, also of this thematic line. There is no past evidence of any society having taken the voluntary decision to reduce its energetic consumption, with its immediate productivity and social conditions consequences. Technological innovation in the use and transformation of geological resources, including the use of fossil energy, remains as the possible key to overcome the current difficulties. Oil and shale gas seat in this context and need to be framed into a territorial global approach.

The thematic line will pursue its objectives through several regional clusters, in Southern Europe (including the Portuguese Continental platform) and the Mediterranean, in SW Africa and in Southern America. These clusters will allow assessing, under different contexts, the specific methods developed in relation to each of the objectives and case studies.

Envolved Groups 

  • GeoTechnology
  • Quaternary and Prehistory

Thematic Line Structure

The thematic lines in CGeo are aimed at merging the efforts of the research groups into a series of common objectives. This way, CGeo has a matrix structure, with the research groups integrating researchers with a primary focal interest in the specific aims of each group, and the thematic lines rendering operational such aims within converging efforts of all groups. Hence, the research groups act as interfaces with other research units with converging interests, and offer the expertise accumulated in CGeo in “program driven” topics, whereas the thematic lines are more “projects driven” under a set of specific objectives that go across all the groups.

Also in this thematic line, there will be one coordinating team, lead by a researcher from one of the groups and integrated by 1 researcher from each of the other 2 groups. It is a light structure, with three major tasks: 1) outlining specific fundamental or applied research projects that address one of the seven aims of the thematic line, also considering the PhD and Master courses associated to CGeo; 2) planning the publications strategy within the line; 3) identifying scientific meetings where CGeo should be present to discuss the results of research within the line.

This coordinating structure, due to the nature of its composition, immediately secures the necessary links with CGeo board and with each of the research groups.

The website of CGeo and other communication tools of the groups and of the associated institutions, will be used to share information on the advances of research.

Thematic Line Objectives

For several years, CGeo focused on geological resources assessment, dealing mainly with resources identification and characterization, and their transformation and use. In the most recent years it also started to deal with human adaptive strategies, first concerning quaternary studies, but later evolving into landscape management issues. This evolution is consolidated in the present proposal, through the double affiliation to geosciences (which remains the primary one) and to human and social sciences as well. By defining a specific research line on Geology, Environment and Human Behavior, CGeo aims to encompass the issues that depend on the merging of two avenues: the resources availability and the human (non-genetic) adaptive logistical and social competence to accede them. In this sense, the line directly addresses the concerns of contemporary society with perceived contextual changes, climatic or environmental, namely:

  1. Strategies to minimize the loss of raw material in the extraction and production processes;
  2. Models of combination of geological and organic materials in order to minimize environmental anthropic degradation;
  3. Related dwelling, transport and other mobility models and strategies;
  4. Identification of successful low energy cost technic solutions to human needs, based on combinations of geological and other materials;
  5. Anthropic activity as a major geological force (in the sense suggested by ICSU and “Future Earth”);
  6. Fossil energy use and low carbon economy;
  7. Geological resources and models of Human adaptation to risks and hazards.

These 7 major objectives enable to combine the specific objectives of the three groups of CGeo into a single framework that meets two main needs of society: to improve fundamental knowledge on geological resources use in a compatible way with what is being increasingly known as the effects of the “Anthopocene”; to design specific contextual solutions that might contribute towards an efficient framework of reference of applications.

Specific activities within the line include, for instance: the assessment of mineral deposits and the environmental impact of ancient mines; geo-archaeology and archeosciences; diagenetic processes and built heritage degradation; geological risks assessment (natural radioactivity, gravitational movements, water contamination, etc.); patterns of settlement and use of geological resources; territorial management, geomaterials and logistics; climatic indicators; human strategies and their symbolic dimension; etc.

CGeo explicitly aims at contributing to the Future Earth initiative, in this research line namely in the fields of solution-oriented research in the domain of energy and geotechnology, collaborative work involving natural and human sciences and increased capacity in Portugal for innovation in applied geosciences.