Thursday, July 31, 2008

One world, one map... OneGeology is here

Last year at GSA, I saw one of the most evangelical presentations I've ever seen about technology. (I realize that I've never been to Macworld or a Linux conference, but hang with me here.) Ian Jackson of the British Geological Survey talked about bringing geologic maps to the web, through a project called OneGeology. The goal was to create an online geologic map of the world, at a scale of 1:1 million. It's a more difficult job than it might seem - geologic maps can be considered classified information, because they provide information about a country's natural resources. And on a more petty level, geologists working across borders have a tendency to give the same rock different formal names, which makes compiling simplified regional maps difficult. (The boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire isn't exactly along a fault, but it sure seems like it is from the names and interpreted ages of the units.)

Last year, they were still in the process of getting countries to participate.

And now, the map is live. The web site says it will be officially launched next week, on August 6, at the International Geological Congress in Oslo, Norway. But some maps are already available.

For instance, here's the 1:1.5 million geologic map of Europe, zoomed in on the Alps:


On the map of Afghanistan, I can choose an "information" (well, metadata) tool, click on a unit, and read its description.

This is so cool. When I was in college, one of my favorite jobs as a departmental assistant was filing the maps. It was like taking little trips all over the world. As a teacher, I'm constantly waving my arms about some place that the students have never been, without the aid of a map. (Not effective pedagogy, though perhaps good practice for playing charades.) And worse, sometimes students ask questions about places I know only the broadest tectonic information about. (Afghanistan, for instance, or Iraq. Some of my students have been there. I haven't.) And now I'll be able to pull up a web page and show them the maps, and we will be able to try to figure out what's going on together.

This is so cool. (I wonder if this is what it felt like when Bruce Heezen and Marie Tharp first published their beautiful painting of the topography of the ocean floor?)

14 comments:

Silver Fox said...

This is way cool. Can't hardly wait until they have more maps up to play around with!

Maria said...

Optimized for FireFox 2... and won't let me in with version 3! Bah, humbug.

Kim said...

No Firefox 3? (*checks version - I've still got version 2 on my mac*) So even techno-hip geology isn't totally up to speed with the technology.

BrianR said...

This FireFox 3 incomptability is killing me! I guess 3 is new too ... I sure hope they designed this portal to evolve w/ browser updates.

Alessia Maggi said...

Thanks for the heads up Kim! I too have Firefox 2 on my mac, so had no problem playing with the portal.

Ian @ bgs said...

Thanks a lot for the feedback! Sorry about the problems with Firefox 3. We plan to fix them as soon as the launch at the 33rd IGC in Oslo is over. As you will probably appreciate getting 80 countries on board and 29 of these up on the portal has been a bit of a challenge and we just didn't want to destabilise the site until after the launch. It will evolve - and improve in coverage and resolution.

BrianR said...

Ian ... thanks for the heads-up about the coming FireFox 3 fix ... I thought about contacting you guys, but didn't want to be one of thousands of whining geologists :)

If some clever person comes up w/ a workaround in the meantime, please comment here.

hypocentre said...

As a firefox 3 user I did try spoofing OneGeology with the User Agent Switcher plug-in without success. I get past the "This will only work in IE6/7 FF2" page but then it hangs.

However, I have tried installing the Flock [flock.com] browser. Since the current version (1.2) is based on ff2 this does work with OneGeology (only tested with Windows, not Mac or Linux versions for flock).

You can use Flock 1.2 and Firefox 3 at the same time.

BrianR said...

To anyone else reading this thread that is experiencing the FireFox 3 incompatibility issue, Hypocentre's idea to use the Flock browser (which is based on Mozilla source code) is a good workaround until they update the portal ... I simply downloaded Flock 1.2 and was able to access the portal.

Thanks Hypocentre!

Ian@bgs said...

Thanks! I have passed on your solution to the 1G portal team. We will also advise people who mail us. ps have you seen the portal video on You Tube? - comments welcomed - good and bad.....

Chuck said...

"The boundary between Vermont and New Hampshire isn't exactly along a fault"

It's not just a fault, it's a rift valley. I dunno about the northern part of the border, but the southern part is mapped differently because Vermont is the Grenville of North America, while NH is an accreted neoproterozoic terrane.

At least it was 15 years ago, when I last studued it. Has it changed?

(look expectantly at Kim)

Kim said...

Chuck - there's a terrane boundary somewhere near the VT-NH border, depending on how you reconstruct later deformation and which Ordovician gneisses you think are the arc. But it doesn't follow the border exactly. And in northeastern Vermont, the Taconian terrane boundary is hidden by Siluro-Devonian metasediments (the Connecticut Valley Trough, which may be an extensional basin that post-dates the Taconian collision). Then there's a younger fault between those sediments and ones that are mostly characteristic of New Hampshire. But that fault doesn't follow the border exactly, either - it's in Vermont from around Littleton, NH northward. Those NHish sediments are mapped as - Ordovician, I think, in Vermont, and Siluro-Devonian (and correlative with stuff in Maine) in New Hampshire. So the maps don't match up, because the mappers disagree with one another, and there's conflicting evidence on either side of the state line, and the rocks are metamorphosed anyway.

Chuck said...

Well obviously they need to move the political boundary to correlate with the tectonics.
;)

Kim said...

That would really screw up all the businesses that exist to take advantage of the different tax laws across the border...