BIOGEOMON History

The 2012 conference is the 7th in the BIOGEOMON series of meetings that was started by the Czech Geological Survey, Prague, at a time when the Czech Republic was still behind the Iron Curtain.

In the 1970s, Bedrich Moldan and Tomas Paces of Czechoslovakia's Geochemistry Department in the Geologic Survey started hydrogeochemical monitoring of small catchments in the Central European region, later known as "The Black Triangle."  At that time, spruce die-back in the Erzgebirge Mountains was well under way.  Nearly half of the world's soft coal production occurred in the area, with most of the coal being burned in Soviet-style power plants that lacked desulphurization.  The coal contained about 3 % sulfur by weight.  Between 1975 and 1990, over 1000 km2 of spruce stands died back in the area, mainly above 700 meters elevation.  During most of this time, the Communist governments of the Czech Republic (then part of Czechoslovakia), East Germany, and Poland denied any problem, and pictures of the "fish-bone" silhouettes of dead spruce trees were hardly ever leaked to the West.  It was unthinkable for local researchers to publish air-borne concentrations of pollutants, with the one notable exception of Tomas Paces' 1985 Nature paper on sources of acidification in Central Europe (Paces 1985).  It was in this unfriendly environment that Bedrich Moldan and Tomas Paces invited leading environmental geochemists, many of who were personal friends from the Prague Spring political thaw of 1968-1970, to Prague to discuss element mass balances in catchments with spruce-decline.  The meeting was named GEOMON.  Over 150 participants, many from Western Europe and a few from North America, gathered in the Art-Nouveau Municipal House in the Old Town of Prague in 1987.  The organizers displayed over 20 national flags, borrowed from the Foreign Ministry, on the balcony of the Municipal House.  During the first night, the U.S. and British flags were stolen; such was the fascination of Prague's underworld with these symbols.  The authorities were unprepared for the size of the turnout of western scientists, followed by a surprise field trip that took symposium participants for an inspection of the critically-ill ecosystems of the Erzgebirge Mountains.  The word about the severity of damage spread across Western Europe and North America.  Right after the Velvet Revolution, which ousted the Communists (1989), Bedrich Moldan, the founder of GEOMON, became Minister of the Environment in the new democratic government.

Because of the success of the first GEOMON meeting, subsequent meetings were held at venues that have deliberately oscillated across the Atlantic Ocean to encourage international participation.  The meeting was re-named BIOGEOMON in 1992, to emphasize the broad array of biogeochemical topics that were increasingly dominating the conference.  The sequence, growth, and venue of the BIOGEOMON conference are summarized below:

Prague, Czechoslovakia (1987, n = 150, 20 countries) (alias GEOMON)

Prague, Czech Republic (1992, n = 200, 27 countries) (renamed BIOGEOMON)

Villanova, Pennsylvania, USA (1997, n = 240, 28 countries)

Reading, England, UK (2002, n = ca. 300)

Santa Cruz, California, USA (2006, n = ca. 300, 30 countries)

Helsinki, Finland (2009, n = 450, 474 oral papers and posters, 43 countries, 5 continents) (www.environment.fi/syke/biogeomon2009)

Northport, Maine, USA (2012)