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I am damn happy to report to you that the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Portland, OR (October 18-21) has given a nod to the geofroth. I teamed up with some folks smarter and nicer than I (always a good approach) to devise some session proposals about digital methods in geology. It worked! There will be two sessions. One is a Pardee Keynote Session on Sunday Afternoon (Oct. 18) entitled:

Google Earth to Geoblogs: Digital Innovations in the Geosciences

This session is being developed by Me (UNR/NBMG), John Bailey (UAF; AVO), Ron Schott (Ft. Hays State), Mano Marks (Google Geo), Glenn Richard (MPI / Stonybrook / SERC), and Peter Selkin (UW Tacoma). This session will be consciously and blatantly unconventional with a few talks, possibly a discussion or two, and will ultimately transmogrify into a interactive session with displays and tutorials of Google Earth applications and kml programming; examples and demonstrations of gigapixel photography (ranging from the do-it yourself to some amazing examples by professionals from xRez; stellar examples of using GE for education and outreach; and demonstrations of some of the other things that you may have read about at Geologic Frothings. We are also planning on unleashing a geo-mashup  on the masses willing to attend. Oh yeah, and there will be free (frothy) Oregon microbrew, but don’t tell anybody.

The aforementioned cast of characters have been let loose by GSA to build the keynote as they wish. Please plan on stopping by if you are attending GSA. It will be fun even if it doesn’t work.

As for an alternate venue for direct participation, the same crew (only in a different order) are heading-up a technical session entitled:

Digital Innovations in Geoscience Research, Education, and Outreach

If the sound of this warms the digital part of your heart then please submit an abstract. Abstracts are due August 11, 2009 so you should have plenty of time to get your act together.
Come and help us bring geology into the 21st Century.

By the way, my proposal to GSA for the keynote originally had the term Geoscience 2.0, but the selection committee didn’t get it…and not because they thought it should be 3.0!

As a follow-up to recent and elementary post about how useful Google Earth is for field mapping, check out the traverse that I actually made:

Also, check out the online photo album that I created from the geotagged images shown on the snippet above:

Lower Walker River

If you don’t think these technologies are useful, you may need to seek counseling.

File this one under the hilariously obvious. I am preparing for a 2-day outing for some reconnaissance along the range front of the Wassuk Range near Walker Lake. The piedmont there is an amazing plexus of massive, bouldery debris flow fans, multiple shorelines, and multiple Quaternary fault strands. It is an exceptional place to check out in real life and in Google Earth. In preparing my crap for the field, it dawned on me that instead of stupidly taking my computer in the field with a bunch of cached data, I could just print out some key perspectives on the areas I planned to visit. Duh. Despite being obsessed with hi-tech devices, I really do not like carrying a computer in the field. Also, I have never been one to enjoy using a stereoscope in the field, so this is an obvious solution.

If you have Google Earth Pro, you can save some nice high-res images (there are others ways to get them…) and doctor them up a bit for clarity and contrast. Check out the image below:

Thus, I will use this as one of my base images while mapping in the field. Isn’t this obvious? Doesn’t it look like a cool area to get paid to hike around in?

I am sure you know that you can overlay high-res geotifs in Google Earth if the existing base imagery does not meet your needs.

Geomorphologists often speculate about what a desert flash-flood flow front / flood bore would look like. Turns out, not many of us have actually seen one in action. In this example from You Tube, some enterprising individuals went in the field to film some. This is entertaining and informative. You will immediately note the varying degrees to which the flow fronts are laden with flotsam and foam as well as complicated hydraulic interactions.

Visit you tube and search on ‘geology’ ‘floods’ and other key terms near to your heart and you will find, amongst the flotsam, some clips that have some true value to understanding surface processes. The 2005 tsunami helped open the door to this to some extent.

Also note that if you have a relatively new digital camera and a big memory card, you can create your own decent resolution footage in the field. Aside from instructional value, you may very well film a rare event one day.

I bet you wonder about how in the world you can track all of the interesting developments in science and mapping on the Internet and then you become so frustrated that you blow the whole thing off. Obviously, my blog is not much help in terms of all of the possibilities, and it is likely that you are not interested in regularly checking on what Dr. Jerque is blathering on about this time. The obvious, obvious, obvious solution to this is to use an RSS reader. What is an RSS reader you ask? Just check this link: RSS explained. In short, it is essentially a program that aggregates updated information from websites and data portals on the Internet. The Internet ‘feeds’ can then be viewed within a simple interface, can be filtered by key words, and sorted thematically. Updated feeds are highlighted so you can see if anything new has shown up. I use a feed reader (yep, Google Reader ) to skim the Internet to find interesting things about digital mapping and the like.

If you install an RSS reader you can quickly subscribe to any site that you visit that includes one of these types of symbols:

You can subscribe to this blog (Geologic Froth) by selecting the previous link or clicking the relevant button in the url bar. That way you can see if I have added anything new without actually going directly to the blog (i.e. determine if it is worth your time to go to the blog at all).

What is most interesting for scientists is that you can subscribe to RSS feeds provided by numerous publishers that show the recent Table of Contents from various journals. The UNR library has collated a list of these (scientific journal rss ), and there are more. Ideally, all journals will eventually do this since it is a very efficient way to inform the scientific community about current research. Once you subscribe to various feeds of interest, you can filter the feeds for key words. You can also subscribe to news feeds that are filtered by topic (e.g., Nevada geology). There are also RSS feeds from the USGS that report recent global seismic activity.

Check the UNR library site for some very useful and concise information about RSS feeds.

Also, I use Google Reader to populate the boxes on the blog that contain links of interest (Fresh Geofroth and Fresh Cartofroth). That is a pretty handy set-up as well. Click ‘Read More’ in one of those boxes and you will learn how to subscribe to the related RSS feed for that particular brand of froth. Cool? yes.

Can you believe what you have been missing? Take 10 minutes to figure it out. You have the time, come on….none of that ‘I am far too busy’ crap.

This map is the effort of the Reno Gazette-Journal using USGS and UNR/NSL data. Shouldn’t this map be embedded on on the NBMG website?

The hapless residents of Fernley, Nevada were recently struck by a flood of entirely human design when the canal that deprives Pyramid Lake of water failed into their neighborhood on an extremely cold and snowy morning.

Authors at the RG&J put together a Google Map to illustrate the effects of the flood. They also recently put one together to show snow and road conditions in the Lake Tahoe area. Good move.

Another option for providing spatial context for geologically oriented photographs is to geotag them in an online photo album that links to a map. Here is an example made using Picasa, a very handy (free) photo organizing program that can geotag photos for viewing in Google Maps or Google Earth: Geotagged Photo Example

As I have mentioned in previous posts, Google Map’s ‘My Maps’ feature offers a way to very quickly develop some interesting maps that incorporate images and commentary. This is the most basic application. It is possible to make the interface considerably more elaborate with additional coding using an API–application programming interface. The example below is one that I put together with a few hour’s work with photo editing and Google Maps. It highlights some scenic points on recent flights between Reno, Vegas, and Oklahoma City (although the scenery ends near Albuquerque). The potential for this to highlight geologic features of Nevada is obvious, no? It can even be made very technical to share with other scientists. I made mine for fun, but it could be augmented considerably with text on history and geology along with relevant links.

Last week at AGU, I attended most of the presentations in the Virtual Globe sessions. Some of the presentations were very informative, others less so (what’s new?). I had opportunities to talk with some geologists and programmers that are very proficient in presenting their data online in interesting and insightful ways. I also met some of the braniacs from Google and peppered them with all sorts of questions.

What did I come away with? Here’s a short list laced with my crass opinions:

1. Exclusively paper geologic maps are dead, dead, dead. They have almost no appeal to anyone other than their authors and a small subset of their colleagues. In the current age, these maps have almost no functional value relative to digital counterparts (which can be printed).

2. Virtual Globes and Geo-browsers are to paper maps and classroom globes like the computer is to the typewriter and calculator. They don’t completely supplant them, but come really close.

3. Many of the people that are making the most interesting things are either code-monkeys or are very interested outside observers that have embraced the value of things like Google Earth. Both types expressed some puzzlement to me as to why many scientists are not embracing it in similar ways. There don’t appear to be enough active geoscience researchers effectively communicating the value of these tools to other geoscientists and potential end-users of geoscience data. Hopefully this is changing. Millions and millions of people use Google Earth, Google Maps, and related things. Talk about a true outreach opportunity.

4. The archaic evaluation and peer-review system in geoscience / science in general does not adequately accommodate or appreciate the use of these types of tools. This is obviously a major anti-incentive to those slaving away to measure up in traditional pub. counts.

5. There are many really cool ways to share, display, interpret, and explain geologic data using virtual globes that are almost impossible any other way. Check out, for example:

It is like a dream come true for geologists who, appropriately enough, study the freaking Earth!! Accept your destiny or expect your obsolescence.

This short list (screed?) and is not particularly eloquent. For a considerably more thoughtful presentation on a similar theme, check out the following editorial from one of this month’s issues of Nature:


Nature 450, 761 (6 December 2007) | doi:10.1038/450761a; Published online 5 December 2007

Patching together a world view

Data sets encapsulating the behaviour of the Earth system are one of the greatest technological achievements of our age — and one of the most deserving of future investment.

Technology can change the way we see the world. If the artist David Hockney is to be believed, the camera obscura changed the way artists drew things, and thus how their audiences saw them. Centuries later, photographic film changed the visual arts again, as painters sought to recapture subjectivity in fresh impressionisms and expressionisms in response to the new technology. Then cine-matography brought with it a new mastery over time. Compressed, it turned buds to blooms in seconds — reversed, it re-erected falling chimneys with pleasing symbolic power. These tricks became embedded in our minds, letting us think of time moving backwards and forwards, faster and slower with an educated ease previously absent from the imagination.

In the past two decades, the computer has changed things yet again, introducing an almost infinite capacity to bring what was previously non-visual to the eye, and an almost infinite range of points of view impossible to reach in any other way. The ability to change point-of-view and depth-of-field massively and arbitrarily has created a peculiarly contemporary way of seeing, which American technology writer Steven Johnson has called “the long zoom”. This is when a camera focused on, say, a human eye appears to hurtle pell-mell through the pupil to the nucleus of a cell — or pulls back from the orbit of the eye to an orbit round the planet.

In the world of the long zoom, the planetary scale has a particular significance. It links every image of the world to the great image of Earth that contains them all. It builds on and subverts the change first introduced by space flight almost 50 years ago — the ability to stand outside what was previously seen only from within. The long zoom integrates the inside and the outside, giving computers a means of marshalling vast data sets — as users of Google Earth can testify. Geospatial imagery becomes a great uniter of data; whether the data come from satellites looking down, or sensors deep in the oceans, or tracking systems strapped to walruses or gas monitors sitting above forest canopies, computers can, in principle, put them all together (see articles starting on page 778). This is why seemingly arcane developments such as the European Union’s INSPIRE directive, a measure that tidies up access to geodata and provides an Internet portal for accessing them, are important. They set the standards by which the world can be freely reassembled.

The long view

The creation of these new ways of seeing the world would be a significant aesthetic achievement even if they had no commercial, scientific or strategic use. In fact they have all three — as well as an even greater environmental usefulness. After the expansion of human population, intensive agriculture and industrial development that marked the twentieth century, it is only with the help of global monitoring systems that today’s arrangements of everything from urbanization to epidemiology can be properly understood.

One of the most profound contributions to this approach came from the late David Keeling, a pioneer of climate research who was the first person reliably to measure carbon dioxide levels at remote locations such as Mauna Kea in Hawaii or the South Pole, in what his friend and boss Roger Revelle famously called mankind’s “great experiment” with the planet’s climate. Keeling’s simple instruments became the basis of a network around the world for monitoring trace gases. At various times it was suggested to Keeling that he should perhaps desist from taking such endless care over a single data stream — that this wasn’t the basis of great science. It took courage and conviction to keep going — and even now, his heirs struggle to continue the work in the face of unwilling funders and apathetic peers (see page 789).

Ideas not followed through can be taken up again later. A record not made is gone for good.

Now or never

Monitoring the Earth system requires great expertise, not just to build the instruments but to use them properly and interpret their output. Many scientists are, however, far from enthused by projects that do not involve the forming and testing of hypotheses. At worst, monitoring is traduced as stamp collecting and looked down on as drudgery.

Such attitudes must not be allowed to prevail. Testing hypotheses about how the world works requires not just information on the current state of the three-dimensional globe, but on its progress through the fourth dimension of time. Data on the colour of the seas that are not gathered today can never be gathered in the future — gaps left in the record cannot be filled (see page 782). And continuous data sets are going to be vital to the validation of the ever more informative models of the Earth system that we need.

This is why operational systems for data collection in which scientists play key roles are so important. Only they can give us multiscale and multifactor ways of seeing the world that are up to the challenges of the twenty-first century. When the expenditure needed to maintain these data flows conflicts with the funds needed to support fresh scientific research, researchers must acknowledge that there is a strong case for preferring continuous, operational monitoring. An accurate and reliable record of what is going on can trump any particular strategy for trying to understand it.

There is only one Earth, with only one history, and we get only one chance to record it. Ideas not followed through can be taken up again later. A record not made is gone for good. Long zooms in and out of our ever more detailed images of Earth will delight and inform us for years to come. But no digital trickery can replace the steady, fateful pan from past to future.