Ethical Considerations for Responsible Geological Fieldwork and Sampling (by Enrico Cameron, Italy)
Updated: Aug 5
Enrico Cameron (GeoStudio – Environmental and Geological Consulting Office, Italy):
Geological fieldwork and sampling play a crucial role in broadening our comprehension of the Earth’s complexities. Geoscientists should conduct these activities ethically, with respect for both the natural world and the communities they engage with. This responsibility becomes even more crucial when working on Indigenous lands, where acknowledging the historical context and upholding cultural values are paramount. This topic has been addressed in recent publications (Di Capua et al. 2022; Ryan-Davis and Scalice 2022; Chan and Mogk 2023) and some of the indications deriving from them are examined below.
Engaging stakeholders and showing respect: one of the fundamental principles of ethical fieldwork involves engaging with stakeholders from the outset. Building relationships based on trust and mutual respect is key. Collaborating with local communities and Indigenous peoples offers valuable insights and ensures alignment with their perspectives and sensitivities.
Detailed planning and adhering to regulations: integrating ethical considerations into study planning is essential for ethical fieldwork. Before initiating sample collection, it’s imperative to create comprehensive plans that adhere to local regulations. Upholding accountability through legal and ethical protocols ensures actions align with ethical standards. This meticulous approach tries to minimize potential environmental damages, particularly in sites of geoheritage significance.
Transparency and data sharing: ethical responsibility extends beyond the field. Making all data, including methodologies and findings, accessible and transparent is crucial. This openness fosters collaboration, innovation, and allows local contributors to verify and re-examine the results, contributing to the credibility of scientific research.
Establishing ethical guidelines and promoting education: in an era of rapid scientific advancements, the establishment of clear ethical guidelines and best practices is of paramount importance. Incorporating these considerations into university curricula and fieldwork training equips the next generation of geoscientists with a deep understanding of ethical practices.
Incorporating geoheritage: a profound appreciation for geoheritage is essential for ethical fieldwork. Acknowledging the historical significance and intrinsic value of geological sites enhances the commitment to responsible exploration and sampling.
Formal training and resource development: providing formal training on permitting and sampling ethics equips researchers with the knowledge needed to navigate complex ethical landscapes. Developing comprehensive resources, checklists, and webpages further supports ethical decision-making in various sectors and subdisciplines.
Offering advice and guidance: establishing information repositories and advisory boards of experienced researchers ensures ethical considerations are integrated throughout the process. This support system should extend to students, offering guidance when encountering ethical dilemmas.
Formal ethical commitments: professional societies play a pivotal role in reinforcing ethical conduct. Strengthening codes of ethics and embracing statements that underscore ethical considerations demonstrate a collective commitment to responsible fieldwork.
Ethical publication practices: upholding the “leave no trace” principles in published research emphasizes the preservation of both physical and cultural landscapes (https://lnt.org/why/7-principles/). Incorporating stronger language on sampling ethics in journals promotes a culture of ethical awareness within the scientific community.
Archiving and long-term care: ethical considerations extend to the long-term care of samples and data. Addressing archival standards, provenance, and repatriation of culturally significant samples ensures respect for the cultural heritage.
Indigenous lands and cultural significance: working on Indigenous lands requires a deep understanding of the historical context. Acknowledging these lands’ Indigenous ancestry and respecting their cultural significance is not only ethically sound, but also strengthens research by incorporating diverse perspectives (see also Kiernan, 2015). In some places it may be necessary to outright avoid sampling.
Equitable collaboration: collaborating with Indigenous experts ensures ethical considerations are embedded in the sampling process. Incorporating Indigenous perspectives and knowledge promotes equity in geoscience and fosters mutual learning.
Sharing knowledge and teaching ethical techniques: sharing collected samples and promoting ethical sampling techniques contribute to a culture of responsible fieldwork. Imparting these principles ensures that ethical practices endure.
Inclusive decision-making: involving all stakeholders, including researchers and Indigenous community members, in decision-making underscores commitment to ethical fieldwork. Aligning the sampling process with Indigenous perspectives contributes to sustainable and respectful exploration.
In essence, ethical geological fieldwork and sampling require a holistic approach that encompasses engagement, respect, meticulous planning, transparency, and collaboration. By upholding these principles, researchers seek to engage positively with the environment and the communities affected.
Chan M.A. and Mogk D.W. (2023). Establishing an Ethic of Sampling for Future Generations of Geoscientists. GSA Today, 33(8), 16–18. https://doi.org/10.1130/GSATG559GW.1
Di Capua G., Bohle M., Hildebrandt D., Marone E., Peppoloni S., Schneider S. (2022). Push for ethical practices in geoscience fieldwork. Nature. 601:26. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-03837-0
Kiernan K. (2015). Landforms as Sacred Places: Implications for Geodiversity and Geoheritage. Geoheritage, 7, 177–193. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12371-014-0128-6
Ryan-Davis J. and Scalice D. (2022). Co-creating Ethical Practices and Approaches for Fieldwork. AGU Advances, 3. https://doi.org/10.1029/2022AV000762
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