Land degradation and pollution caused by population pressure and economic development pose a threat to the sustainability of the earth's surface, especially in tropical regions where a long history of chemical weathering has made the surface environment particularly fragile. Systematic baseline geochemical data provide a means of monitoring the state of the environment and identifying problem areas. Regional surveys have already been carried out in some countries, and with increased national and international funding they can be extended to cover the rest of the land surface of the globe. Preparations have been made, under the auspices of the International Union of Geological Surveys (IUGS) and the International Association of Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry (IAGC) for the establishment of just such an integrated global database. ?? 2001 NERC. Published by Elsevier Science Ltd.