Interview with Mónica Sousa

Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Geological Heritage

EFG’s Panels of Experts (PE) have been set up to provide high quality advice and information to the European institutions, to international NGO’s and to other global professional associations. EFG has currently 10 Panels of Experts active in the fields of CCS, Education, Geological Heritage, Geotechnics, Geothermal Energy, Hydrogeology, Natural Hazards, Minerals, Oil & Gas and Soil Protection. The Panels involve more than 200 voluntary experts from over 20 different countries and all aim at emphasising the importance of geology to society, the benefits of incorporating geological advice and to promote the importance of the geoscientific profession.

To raise awareness about the existence of these Panels of Experts, EFG is presenting its coordinators in an interview series. In October 2018, we have talked to Mónica Sousa, the coordinator of the Panel on Geological Heritage.

Mónica Sousa

Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Geological Heritage since 2015

Mónica Sousa, born in Porto, holds a Master’s degree in Prospecting and Evaluation of Geological Resources by the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto, where she graduated in Geology in 2002. She is finishing at the same faculty the PhD thesis in Geosciences, in the speciality of Petrology and Geochemistry. She worked as a geologist at Metro do Porto, S.A. and at the Porto Municipality. She also developed training courses for geosciences teachers. She was a research fellow at the Geology Centre of the University of Porto and has published several articles in scientific congresses and national and international journals. She is the co-author of geology field guides and of the book “Geological Heritage. Geosites to visit in Portugal” edited by Porto Editora, in 2012. In addition to the research activities in Mineralogy, Petrology, Geochemistry and Geochronology she has dedicated particular attention to Geological Heritage, namely on the conservation, valorisation and dissemination of the Foz do Douro Metamorphic Complex, being responsible for the development of the “Foz do Douro Geological Walk” Project. She has participated in numerous scientific dissemination activities, namely the ones developed in the scope of the Project “Geology in the Summer” (promoted by Ciência Viva Agency), as well as the ones promoted by the Project Porto Cidade da Ciência (“Porto City of Science”) and by the Portuguese Association of Geologists. Since 2010, she has been a member of the Board Commission of the Portuguese Association of Geologists (APG) and in 2016 she became also the APG’s Executive Director. She is a European Federation of Geologists (EFG) delegate. She is also the Coordinator of the EFG Panel of Experts on Geological Heritage.

About your field of expertise:


The Panel of Experts on Geoheritage aims to support the European Institutions in finding answers to the geological heritage challenges. Which factors are particularly challenging for the conservation of Europe’s geological heritage?

Geological heritage is a non-renewable natural resource that can be affected by human and natural factors, leading to partial or total loss of geological sites. In what concerns human activities, Geoheritage is vulnerable to urban development, vandalism, smuggling, absence of a proper legal protection and international agreements, lack of expertise, and unawareness of international, national and local authorities, just to name a few. Regarding natural factors, it is subject, among others, to weathering, erosion, climate change, mining, and geological hazards.

Although many efforts have been made in recent years, for instance with the creation of Geoparks and protective policies for multiple geological heritage sites, society still does not fully recognize the importance of Geoheritage and the need for its protection. This is clearer when we compare it to the existence of many international and national policies and strategies for the protection of biodiversity. When we refer to natural heritage, society and Protected area managers still tend to consider only biodiversity. This has to change; natural heritage should be managed, taking into consideration both geodiversity and biodiversity. In order to influence nature conservation policies in each country, International organizations must be more active on the definition of geoconservation strategies and targets.

What is the current status of the EU legislation in this field?

Although Europe has outstanding examples of geological heritage and geodiversity, their preservation is seriously threatened due to the scarcity of EU conservation policies. « Protection of the European geological heritage in all its forms requires consistent and persistent effort by government and non-government organizations (…) and the management of areas of special interest for geology, geomorphology or biodiversity requires a combined approach, using education, the development of management plans and the use of appropriate legal protection measures. Education (awareness raising) and effective management planning are essential but need to be underpinned by the law. » [CO-DBP/GEO (2003)]. Considering that legal measures to protect the geological heritage will vary according to national governments approaches, it is necessary to develop a European Legislation that can be transversal to all countries and which clearly includes the geological heritage.

How do you see the future role of geoscientists in your field of expertise, for example 20 years ahead from now?

I believe that society awareness towards the need for protecting the environment, including the protection of its natural heritage, will increase. The implementation of effective geoconservation policies and strategies and well-managed geological sites can support different types of sustainable use with clear benefits for the society, namely scientific, educational and economic use. Geoscientists will, with no doubt, play a crucial role in Geoheritage management and protection.


About your Panel of Experts:


Which role can the EFG Panel of Experts on Geological Heritage play in the current EU policy context?

The EFG Panel of Experts on Geoheritage can provide expertise to the EU, cooperating and advising in the development of EU policies and regulations regarding Geological Heritage.

How would you define the added value of collaborating with experts from different European countries?

The PE is composed of members from several countries and professional backgrounds. This diversity brings different realities and perspectives that are valuable to share.

What is your Panel of Experts currently working on? What are your further plans for 2018?

We have recently participated in the external review of the IPBES Global Assessment of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. We are planning to prepare in the near future a joint position paper on geoscience education with the EFG Panel of Experts on Education.

Is there anything EFG could do to support your Panel of Experts?

EFG could support in establishing collaborations with other EU institutions and the European Commission.

Your Panel involves less women than men and in general women are underrepresented in the STEM sector. What needs to be done to improve the gender balance in earth sciences?

I think gender balance is now more equilibrated than a few years ago. There are now more female scientists covering all branches of science. Nevertheless, women still face some obstacles entering the job market and in accessing managing positions and, in general, their wages are lower than their male counterparts (for the same functions), specially in the private sector.


About yourself:


Since when do you lead your Panel of Experts?

I am leading the Panel since 2015.

What inspired you to become a geologist? Why did you choose the field of Geoheritage?

Since a little kid I was amazed by the beauty of volcanoes, geological landscapes, minerals, and fossils, so Geology was a natural option when choosing a graduation course and a carrier. I believe that the preservation of the geological heritage is of great importance for the reasons I have already mentioned. In addition to several dissemination actions that I have done over the years, I have also participated in the development of a project aimed at classifying and disseminating the geological heritage of the city of Porto.

What do you currently do in your job?

At the present I am the Executive Director of my national Association, the Portuguese Association of Geologists and I am also a researcher at the University of Porto.

More information about the EFG Panels of Experts