SA to host ‘world cup’ of geosciences in 2016

13th August 2012 By: Natasha Odendaal - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

JOHANNESBURG ( – South Africa is readying itself to host the “world cup” of geosciences – the thirty-fifth International Geological Congress (IGC) – in 2016, local organising committee chairperson and IGC joint president Professor Richard Viljoen reported.

The closing ceremony on Friday of the thirty-fourth IGC, in Australia, where outgoing IGC president Neil Williams handed the ‘President’s Cup’ to Viljoen, officially marked South Africa’s journey to hosting the congress for the second time. The country held the fifteenth congress in Pretoria in 1929.

The IGC is a nonprofit scientific and educational congress, which is generally hosted every four years and has, to date, been held in more than 21 countries since the first congress in France in 1878.

It brings together earth scientists from all over the world to debate the latest insights into processes in and on Earth, while sharing information, ideas and best practice, and encourages the advancement of fundamental and applied research in the earth sciences globally.

A preliminary budget estimated it would cost about R60-million to host the event. The Council for Geoscience was currently funding the preparation process, but the IGC committee aimed to secure further sponsorship.

GSSA executive manager Dr Craig Smith said that the committee would focus on sponsorship during 2013, but expected that it would cost much more to host the event, as delegate travel, accommodation and fieldtrips were not included. He noted one estimate at R125-million.

The government had also contributed R10-million toward the congress, which is set to take place from August 27 to September 4, 2016, at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The congress was expected to attract over 6 000 geoscientists globally, said Viljoen, adding that the IGC committee would aim for 10 000 delegates.

The 2016 congress team, with the support of the South African government, has already started the process to ready the country for the congress and has, besides others, established a local organising committee, along with a number of subcommittees; secured the conference facilities; registered a not-for-profit company; and secured commitment from the Council of Geoscience to provide funding and staff.

The 2016 IGC, which would also mark 150 years since the discovery of diamonds in 1866 and 130 years since the discovery of gold in the Witwatersrand, would incorporate a number of the themes from the previous congress and cover all aspects of geosciences, including economic and medical geology, as well as environmental issues, high pressured mineralogy and acadamic aspects.

The Council for Geoscience, the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA) and the South African national committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) submitted South Africa’s bid in 2008. The country beat Morocco and India in the bid to host 2016’s IGC.

The congress was expected to comprise a number of local mid-congress excursions, as well as pre- and post-congress trips to African countries, including Ghana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Ethiopia, besides others, allowing delegates the opportunity to study geological features in the field. Smith expected that between 30 and 60 trips would be planned.

The IGC scientific programme chairperson Professor Jay Barton was inviting input, with a “distinct African flavour”, on the structure and content of the scientific programme for the congress.

Further, the IGC committee’s Geohost programme would provide qualifying earth scientists from developing countries with travel, accommodation and congress registration to attend the congress. However, sponsors were required to assist in funding this initiative.

It was expected that the congress would expose young African scientists to the greatest geological minds, which the bidding consortium said would be an invaluable experience and investment for their further development and maturation as scientists.

The committee said that the 2016 IGC would also promote and elevate South Africa’s geological specialties and strategic geoscientific priorities, including the discovery of new deposits of strategic minerals, geological storage of carbon dioxide, the rehabilitation of derelict and ownerless mines, and the management of acid mine drainage.

The organisation also pointed out that the congress could reveal that the proper exploration and use of Africa’s natural resources were key in the development and upliftment of the Southern African countries.

In 2004, South Africa was placed in the top four countries in terms of exploration expenditure, but was overtaken by many other emerging markets and currently did not even feature in the top ten, attracting only 1% of global exploration spend, Council for Geoscience mineral resources development and engineering geology manager Dr Stewart Foya told Mining Weekly last month.

However, both GSSA immediate past president and mining consultancy The Mineral Corporation senior geological adviser Dr Johan Krynauw and newly appointed GSSA president and Rio Tinto’s South African exploration country manager Pamela Naidoo believed that exploration in South Africa could pick up if the amount of available updated geological information is increased.

Meanwhile, India has won the bid to host the thirty-sixth ICG, in 2020, India’s Ministry of Mines announced on Thursday. The last IGC in India was held in 1964 in Delhi.

Of 179 votes from 121 IUGS member countries, 128 members voted in favour of India. Only 51 voted for Canada, which had hoped to host the event in Vancouver.