Mapping the Future of Field Geology

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Mapping the Future of Field Geology

Postby Evan G » Aug 5, 2006 3:53 pm

In 1818, William "Strata" Smith ushered in the modern practice of field geology with his publication of the first hand-painted, color geological map of England and Wales. Two centuries later, the tools haven't changed much. Recently though, UC Berkeley geologist George Brimhall and his colleagues have developed mapping software that they hope will bring field geology kicking and screaming into the digital age.

Today's field scientists use paper topographic maps and a box of colored pencils," says Brimhall, professor of geology in the Department of Earth and Planetary Science. "They're using technology from the second grade to map complex problems in geology of great importance to society."


More at:http://sciencematters.berkeley.edu/archives/volume3/issue22/story3.php
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Postby batrotter » Aug 6, 2006 8:40 pm

Nice article! I enjoy anything that talks about GIS.
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Postby George Dasher » Aug 7, 2006 9:45 am

Sounds great, but they're never going to phase out that second grade technology.

I use Arcview all the time, which is a GIS system, but I also keep that box of colored pencils close at hand. And I just used them yesterday.
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Postby Teresa » Aug 7, 2006 5:32 pm

If you drop a bag of colored pencils, they don't break.
You may have to resharpen a couple.

If you drop your pencils in the creek, or it rains up a gullywasher, wait 10 minutes for them to dry, and you are back in business.

8-16 colored pencils can be had for between $1 total and $38 ( the latter for the most expensive art pencils at $1.50 or so apiece).

There is such a thing as 'too much information' in the field. The point of a map is to selectively outline and emphasize certain things.

Colored pencils weigh less than an ounce apiece.

Colored pencils do not require batteries and are easily erased if you goof up.

If you cannot draw with a colored pencil, you most certainly cannot draw on a screen or electronic tablet.

You cannot hit the wrong button and accidentally erase a colored pencil drawing.

A colored pencil may fudge data, but it is impervious to an interpolation error not intended by the operator.

Data collected by colored pencil is readable by any person with reasonably correctable vision. Computer data (especially GIS data) requires software costing hundreds (and thousands of dollars) and you have to have the correct brand, version and hardware to process it.

Now, think about all these advantages compared with the downside of fragile, fickle field electronics, software misbehavior, and finally, the comprehension level of a student.

A computer is excellent at processing data, but is clumsy as &()&! as a graphics interface compared to a trained human hand and a pencil.

I'm writing this on a laptop, but my colored pencils and paper are near at hand.
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Postby ggpab » Nov 19, 2006 5:57 pm

An old debate comes to light again! We run into this question with field camp classes not just with the colouring pencils but also in parallel with the digital camera issue. Some people think they can just take some digital photos of an exposure and be done with it - not so! We will always need the section to be examined, the field sketch to be drafted, and so on. The point of the colouring pencils is to force you to decide the meaning of every line, to ponder every colour you select out of the bag, and to put meaning into every piece of information you put on the paper. The decision making of codifying what you are documenting can be excruciating at times.

In relation to the GPS/GIS device, there is also a psychological component to having too much 'information' which shuts down the brain of sometimes even very experienced field scientists. Personally I do not like going into the field with too much existing 'information' (whether on paper or not!) that is only going to prejudice me as to what I am seeing in front of my face. Data collected ontop of existing data will never constitute independent confirmation of that data. It is much more powerful to independently observe the same structure, distribution, landscape evolution, etc.

Besides - GPS doesn't work underground.... thank goodness.

I always look at new tools, electronic or otherwise, as to what additional functionality they provide, but also what they are taking away and eliminating from the exercise. I guess I am with Teresa here in that I suspect will always have my pencils close at hand.

Cheers
trish beddows

p.s. If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then a good field sketch / survey / section is worth 1000 pictures...
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Postby Squirrel Girl » Nov 19, 2006 6:24 pm

I'd be the last person to say there's no place for shoe leather on the outcrop. And I LOVE colored pencils.

But my job, when I'm lucky includes interpreting remote sensing data. I am starting a new project to interpret some geology. (Yay!) Sometimes, you just can't get ground truth. And just like the USGS doesn't make topo maps on the ground any more, I think in the big picture, we're going to migrate away from manual geologic mapping. Yes, there will always be the need for verifying the remote data (if you can), but I foresee a shift in the bulk of how geology is done. Additionally, there is a lot of geology that can be understood regionally that just lends itself to other techniques, than people on outcrops with pencils and rock hammers.

Again, I'm not saying there's no need for this. I just think that overall, there will be less and less of the colored pencil form of geology.
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Postby Teresa » Nov 20, 2006 8:16 am

I don't think anyone is against remote sensing, Barbara.
Or modern technology-- CAD and GIS have to be the best aids in making data pretty in the last 100 years.

My point was: just as graphic artists daren't skip learning to draw on paper before moving to the screen because the basics are essential to understanding the simulation (plus you may have to actually draw things, then computer process them in the name of efficiency) geologists need to have the basic background in field mapping in order to understand what they are dealing with when they get to the whiz-bang stage of remote sensing, GIS, and so forth. The invention was being promoted as a replacement of the vital first step in learning field mapping.
No problem if people learn all the gadgets they once, once they understand the problem at hand.
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Postby rchrds » Nov 20, 2006 6:26 pm

Teresa wrote:The invention was being promoted as a replacement of the vital first step in learning field mapping.
No problem if people learn all the gadgets they once, once they understand the problem at hand.


Teresa- let me just throw this out there. This is an interesting argument for me, as we are having almost the exact same argument here in the tactical operations center. (TOC) Here, our argument centers around the ability for young soldiers to migrate all of their geopositioned intelligence data from the standard plastic overlay, which has been in use for longer than any of us have been alive, to the new digital mapping systems, of which ArcGIS is one. Again, both arguments are true, if not more so- you dont need to feed a plastic overlay batteries, and they can take a bullet and keep working. But there is a level at which the abilities of the electronic products outweight their disadvantages. This level may not be at the small unit (individual geologist), and the plastic overlay (colored pencils) may always be a better answer to some extent. But you have to consider two things, and these two things have been pivotal in our transition to small unit digitization- the new soldiers (geologists) coming out of school are of the nintendo generation. They understand some of these programs and systems before they get to the job better than some of us oldsters ever will. Where it may take hours for me to get arcGIS to do something, some of these kids can make it work in minutes. The same goes for systems- the days of fragile, water not-resistant GPS and palmtops are almost over- we have a GPS water resistant to 100 feet with a remote floating antenna. There are palmtops you can use submerged in a foot of water. Right now it's all about money. As with any digitization, time will reduce the cost.

The real answer is to go back to the schoolhouse. Re-evaluate how you teach new geologists, and integrate the electronics into your initial training. All of those focus problems will go away when you learn to use the systems as part of your initial training. Imagine being able to make boundary measurements in inches instead of 10s of feet, and at the same time datalog your photographs and other information in a linked database so never again do you have a pile of loose photos that nobody knows what they belong to.

Just a thought.

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Postby Teresa » Nov 20, 2006 7:55 pm

My major concern with the generation of people raised with computers, calculators, and other whizbang devices is that they have been taught to implicitly trust "the box"-- whatever the box is. I'm not that long out of school with a midlife degree. Most of my fellow students were young enough to be my children. They could make 'the boxes" dance much faster than I could (mostly--in the case of generating data for full-fledged ArcView, I was much better, because they had never seen a command line before, whereas learning computing in MS-DOS, I had.)

But they also believe some pretty strange things. Like a handheld calculator with 12 decimal places is much more accurate than doing the calculation by hand and rounding, especially when there is no reasonable way to measure something to 12 decimal places in the real world. People in my physics classes were amazed I could think in metric (after all, I had gray hair, and likely couldn't count beyond 20.) I had a rocks and minerals class--and aced specimen ID over and over, whereas the class formed a standard bell curve--more than one student insisted that ONLY what a stone looked like was the defining characteristic-- not specific gravity, luster, fracture, crystal structure--that one could better and more accurately ID a rock if you could form a gestalt of its properties--lacking, of course, access to an XRD machine to stick your sample in and have the box tell you what it was.

In short, if you play only with boxes, you learn to think like the box. And that's fine in Box World, but the real intelligence in this world lies in being able to process the data you acquire into meaningful knowledge, wisdom, money or action. To make correct decisions and leap when you don't have 100% of the data at hand (we rarely do, you know). In other words, thinking beyond the box.

I don't think either of the examples you give (measurement and database catalogging) are implicitly digital functions. Survey can be and has been done for hundreds of years with real accuracy, and with fairly primitive tools by people who understood what they were doing. I catalog photographs quite well with pencil and paper--'datalogging them' takes just as long to do the first time in a computer, though admittedly not as long to retrieve if done digitally the second.

If we're using 'the box' to save all this time, what are we saving the time for?
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Postby Evan G » Nov 20, 2006 8:20 pm

Teresa wrote:
If we're using 'the box' to save all this time, what are we saving the time for?


To go caving of course!!!

However, I do agree with you in many ways. It is funny to watch someone in the "box mentally" when the power goes out.

I think that some people forget that like the box I'm typing into or my favorite pen; they are just tools. I think that people have a tendency to forget the education and instead use the crutch thus mistakes arise.
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Postby Squirrel Girl » Nov 20, 2006 9:02 pm

It's funny how before they invented calculators and computers, there weren't dumb and slow people. Students learned everything really well right off the bat when they did it the old fashioned way.
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Postby cavemanjonny » Nov 20, 2006 9:29 pm

As a geology student and a computer nerd, I find this topic fascinating. I for one am eagerly anticipating a time when digital data collection devices are as robust, reliable, and easy to use as a colored pencil.

At work, whenever I have had to go into the field with a laptop to gather data, there is always that nagging fear that the laptop won't work for whatever reason. I have, however, never doubted whether my pencil will lay down a streak of graphite.

Until there are devices (and some already exist) that can be viewed with the same sort of thoughtless trust that we afford pencils, there will be great resistance to going digital, especially in the realm of field geology.

However, we will undoubtedly reach a stage where the engineering of our digital field instruments has gotten sufficiently good that no one will doubt their reliability. The interfaces which we use to control these devices will also have evolved to such a point to where the only training required to use them will be due to the complexity of the problem you're trying to solve, not the complexity of the device.

This of course says nothing of the "magically mysterious thinking box" mindset that many people in my generation are stuck in. Unthinking faith in technology is the result of a lack of education, not the result of computers unavoidably destroying our faculty for critical thinking. Solving this problem will not come from refusing to use new tools, it will come from learning how the tools work, and why we use them in the first place.
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Postby Teresa » Nov 21, 2006 1:19 am

jprouty wrote:However, we will undoubtedly reach a stage where the engineering of our digital field instruments has gotten sufficiently good that no one will doubt their reliability. The interfaces which we use to control these devices will also have evolved to such a point to where the only training required to use them will be due to the complexity of the problem you're trying to solve, not the complexity of the device.


:rofl: :rofl:

I cannot name one (!) device which fits these criteria. Better materials, yes. Better design? Certainly. But excellent engineering, fail-proof and cheap? Not in my lifetime. The more complex a device becomes, the more prone it is to non-user serviceable failure especially under field conditions. I think this is a law of engineering.

In 1980, I changed my own generator in my driveway on my 62 Chevy. I wasn't particularily mechanically minded to do that. Try doing that these days without an automotive engineering certification and special tools. Yeah, I know they have alternators, and enough electronics which fry at the slightest provocation. You used to be able to 'limp' cars-- now they either run, or they don't.

I admire your optimism. But color me a skeptic. Part of what I do for a living is fix computers. A hot cup of coffeeor a misplaced paperclip can do in a keyboard or a CPU. I miss my totally manual camera without batteries. Heck, I miss a camera which isn't "ergonomically engineered" to make them virtually unusable by left-handers. They can't make an indestructible Ipod for the masses, so my faith in field equipment which can survive ordinary rough use is very slim.

There are some advantages to being old. One of which is I won't live so long to see the human race reap the fruit of our current direction.
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Lasers to map caves near Devil's Sink Hole

Postby jonsdigs » Nov 21, 2006 5:55 am

Scientists use lasers to map caves near Devil's Sink Hole in Rocksprings
November 20, 2006
By Joe Hyde
Publisher
West Texas Live

Image
Bats near and around the Devil's Sink Hole in Rocksprings, Texas (conributed photo/Texas Parks and Wildlife)

AUSTIN, Texas – State-of-the-art mapping equipment will be used at Devil’s Sinkhole State Natural Area during the next three months to produce what is believed to be the most detailed map and pictures ever produced on an entire cave.

The remapping project at Devil’s Sinkhole near Rocksprings, Texas, is being done by the Texas Cave Management Association, in cooperation with the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. Devil’s Sinkhole is the third deepest cave in Texas, the largest single-chambered cavern in the state and home to more than 3 million Mexican free-tailed bats.

Scientists began mapping the Devil’s Sinkhole using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) mapping techniques this past weekend, Nov. 11-12. Mapping also will take place Dec. 2-3 and January 6-7.

The three-dimensional map produced by the LiDAR process will be used as an educational, as well as a management, tool and will produce a map with centimeter accuracy. Unlike most maps, this LiDAR map will be linked to digital photographs creating an unprecedented three-dimensional virtual view of the cave.

“Essentially the end result will give the most detailed 3D map of the interior of the Devil's Sinkhole ever, overlaid with color photographs to give anyone viewing the end data a realistic view of the sinkhole,â€
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Postby cavemanjonny » Nov 21, 2006 7:46 am

Teresa wrote:The more complex a device becomes, the more prone it is to non-user serviceable failure especially under field conditions. I think this is a law of engineering.


I fully agree that the more complex a device becomes, the more likely it is to tank. However, you ignored one of the caveats I listed. I said I expect the complexity of devices will eventually be due simply to the complexity of the problem they are designed to fix. That is, I expect the complications due solely to technological esoterica to vanish.

If you have trouble with a device in the field, it will be due to the difficulty of the problem, NOT the device your using. To use an example from todays preferred technology, If I am tasked to make a copy of the Mona Lisa by drawing it, I am going to have difficulty since I know nothing about drawing. You wouldn't blame this failure on the pencil, would you? No, of course not. This failure is due to the difficulty of the task, not the difficulty of using the device.

I expect that todays 'complicated to use but oh so useful devices' will eventually be similarly transparent and frictionless. Ok, not all of them. I'm sure there will be a sort of natural selection among the devices which advance. As these devices continue to be developed, however, the rough spots will be worn down and the complicated features will remain only if they are 100% necessary.
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