By James Dacey
Vatnajokul, Iceland — Europe’s largest glacier (Credit: OneGeology)
OneGeology has been dubbed ‘the biggest mapping project ever’ and its basic premise is to create the first ever digital geological map of the world and make it universally available via a web portal.
I have a background in geophysics, and I am on a Science Communication course at University of Bath, so I was naturally intrigued to see how this project will improve how scientists interact with each other and how they communicate with society as a whole.
In case you are worried that I have hi-jacked this blog, I am working as an intern at Physics World. If the lack of dark matter hasn’t scared you away then I’ll tell you a little bit more
At a press conference today, Ian Jackson, Coordinator of OneGeology explained: “Geological maps are essential tools in finding natural resources e.g. water, hydrocarbons and minerals, and when planning to mitigate geohazards e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes and radon. Natural resources are a crucial source of wealth for all nations, especially those that need to develop and build their economies. Identifying geohazards is often a matter of life or death.”
It’s a truly global collaboration with 97 organizations from 79 countries contributing geological data. When the website goes live today all content will be free and access will be unrestricted.
From the techie viewpoint this project is being made possible by a new mark up language known as GeoSciML. This is an XML schema which can be used to represent geography (geometries e.g. polygons, lines and points using the OGC’s GML specification). At present, its catalogue of specifications includes Geologic Units and Earth Material.
This being an international venture there were language barriers to overcome in the shape of differing web software. Developers got around this by programming a web map service (WMP) to translate all data into GeoSciML.
So how does this run?
Basically, contributors will feed in their geo data and the ‘map’ itself will appear in image format such as PNG, GIF or JPEG. So far, 102 million square kilometres — or 69% of the Earth’s land surface have been surveyed.
Users can then view different ‘layers’ of the map — such as lithological, seismic, paleaomagnetic — depending on their interests.
The next step is to develop a ‘Web Feature Service’ or WFS. Essentially this will be an interface to allow people to add any geographical feature they think worthy.
This project was commissioned as part of the UN International Year of the Planet Earth. OneGeology will be officially unveiled on 6th August at the 33rd International Geological Congress held in Norway.
Although sometimes derived as a diluted science perhaps the geologists have come up with something here to inspire the physicists. Imagine a grand unified web portal for all flavours of physics research.