Geoindicators is a coined term for a class of geologic environmental indicators developed as a tool to assess rapid change in the environment and provide measure of ecological health by examining the abiotic component of ecosystems.  Geoindicators is comprised of 27 indicators that are used to examine near-surface geologic, hydrologic, and atmospheric parameters likely to change within the span of a human lifetime.  International Union of Geological Sciences developed geoindicators concept for environmental planning in mid-1990s. The concept has been adopted by the National Park Service (NPS).  Geoindicators is a really system because it was designed by geologists for non-geologists and geologists alike.  In parks without geologists and environmental scientists on hand, the system of eco-sensors allows planning teams to make science-based assessments of geologic conditions. 

Geoindicators tool begins with a 27-item checklist of important environmental factors necessary to make a comprehensive evaluation of ecosystem change, impact of human change on natural systems, and overall geologic integrity.

1.    Coral chemistry and growth patterns
2.    Desert surface crusts and fissures
3.    Dune formation and reactivation
4.    Dust storm magnitude, duration, and frequency
5.    Frozen ground activity
6.    Glacier fluctuations
7.    Groundwater quality
8.    Groundwater chemistry in the unsaturated zone
9.    Groundwater level
10.    Karst activity
11.    Lake levels and salinity
12.    Relative sea level
13.    Sediment sequence and composition
14.    Seismicity
15.    Shoreline position
16.    Slope failures
17.    Soil and sediment erosion
18.    Soil quality
19.    Streamflow
20.    Stream channel morphology
21.    Stream sediment storage and load
22.    Subsurface temperature regime
23.    Surface displacement
24.    Surface water quality
25.    Volcanic unrest
26.    Wetlands extent, structure and hydrology
27.    Wind erosion

Checklist can be customized to region.  Ten separate criteria further define the parameters for monitoring each indicator.

1.    Significance
2.    Human-caused or natural change?
3.    Environment where applicable
4.    Spatial scale
5.    Types of monitoring sites (where should geoindicator be measured)
6.    Method of measurement
7.    Frequency of measurement
8.    Limitations of data and monitoring
9.    Application to past and future
10.    Possible thresholds (what thresholds and limits cannot be exceeded without drastic environmental change or threats to human health and biodiversity?


1.    Use checklist to identify all geologic processes that occur in ecosystem
2.    Screen list to determine which indicators are of greatest important to given ecosystem
3.    Apply ten assessment criteria for each indicator selected

Model use implementation of geoindicators system would be in conjunction with information from biological, physical, and social science (defines our team’s goal—the ecosystem model)

Geologic information is important to consider for evaluations of visitor experience, safety, and protection.

The year 2000 was the pilot year for the NPS Strategic Plan Goal Ib4, the identification of human influences on geologic processes.  This knowledge-based goal uses the combined expertise of park personnel and geologists to identify natural earth-system processes that are being influence by humans. 
Geoindicators are also being integrated into the Vital Signs Monitoring Program for NPS Strategic Plan Goal Ib3 to identify geologic “vital signs” of ecosystem condition in the 32 monitoring networks and in individual park units. 

Geoindicators: a tool for monitoring the ecosystem and understanding the resources

Robert D. Higgins, National Park Service Geologic Resources Division, Science and Technical Services Branch;

James Wood, National Park Service Geologic Resources Division, Science and Technical Services Branch


NPS [National Park Service].  2001.  Geologic resource monitoring.  Web site:

Stellars, R.W.  1997.  Preserving Nature in the National Park: A History.  New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

        Geography and Geology