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The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) was born in 1961, an offspring of the International Geological Congress (IGC) founded in 1878. IUGS was immediately accepted into the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU) and promptly became a working partner in a number of inter-union and ICSU activities. It thereby achieved one of the goals that proponents of forming a union had hoped for: a plainly visible international organization through which scientists in many disciplines could communicate and collaborate with geological scientists.

IGC had formed many international commissions and committees in the years between 1878 and 1960, but these were left pretty much to their own devices in financing and conducting their work. They were expected to justify their existence by the results they could present for the approval of the Congress, generally at four-year intervals, but there was no permanent channel through which they could be reached. It was difficult for many non-geologists to discover the IGC group with which they shared a common interest. The IGC commissions in existence in 1960 were all transferred to IUGS by 1968, except for two which became international associations affiliated with IUGS; the Union has also established some commissions and committees of its own since 1961. Those of importance to geophysicists are given below.