Digital Geologic Mapping and Integration with the Geoweb: The Death Knell for Exclusively Paper Geologic Maps
The combination of traditional methods of geologic mapping with rapidly developing web-based geospatial applications ('the geoweb') and the various collaborative opportunities of web 2.0 have the potential to change the nature, value, and relevance of geologic maps and related field studies. Parallel advances in basic GPS technology, digital photography, and related integrative applications provide practicing geologic mappers with greatly enhanced methods for collecting, visualizing, interpreting, and disseminating geologic information. Even a cursory application of available tools can make field and office work more enriching and efficient; whereas more advanced and systematic applications provide new avenues for collaboration, outreach, and public education. Moreover, they ensure a much broader audience among an immense number of internet savvy end-users with very specific expectations for geospatial data availability. Perplexingly, the geologic community as a whole is not fully exploring this opportunity despite the inevitable revolution in portends. The slow acceptance follows a broad generational trend wherein seasoned professionals are lagging behind geology students and recent graduates in their grasp of and interest in the capabilities of the geoweb and web 2.0 types of applications. Possible explanations for this include: fear of the unknown, fear of learning curve, lack of interest, lack of academic/professional incentive, and (hopefully not) reluctance toward open collaboration. Although some aspects of the expanding geoweb are cloaked in arcane computer code, others are extremely simple to understand and use. A particularly obvious and simple application to enhance any field study is photo geotagging, the digital documentation of the locations of key outcrops, illustrative vistas, and particularly complicated geologic field relations. Viewing geotagged photos in their appropriate context on a virtual globe with high-resolution imagery can be an extremely useful accompaniment to compilation of field mapping efforts. It can also complement published geologic maps by vastly improving their comprehensibility when field photos, and specific notes can be viewed interactively with them. Other useful applications include GPS tracking/documentation of field traverses; invoking multiple geologic layers; 3-D visualizations of terrain and structure; and online collaboration with colleagues via blogs or wikis. Additional steps towards collaborative geologic mapping on the web may also enhance efficient and open sharing of data and ideas. Geologists are well aware that paper geologic maps can convey tremendous amounts of information. Digital geologic maps linked via a virtual globe with field data, diverse imagery, historical photographs, explanatory diagrams, and 3-D models convey a much greater amount of information and can provide a much richer context for comprehension and interpretation. They can also serve as an efficient, entertaining, and potentially compelling mechanism for fostering inspiration in the minds of budding (and aging) geologists.
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