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Volume 20 Issue 4 (April-May 2010)

GSA Today

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (3.4MB)

The digital revolution in geologic mapping

Steven J. Whitmeyer1, Jeremy Nicoletti1, and Declan G. De Paor2

1 James Madison University, Dept. of Geology & Environmental Science, MSC 6903, Harrisonburg, Virginia 22807, USA
2 Old Dominion University, Dept. of Physics, Norfolk, Virginia 23529, USA

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Abstract

Geologic field data collection, analysis, and map compilation are undergoing a revolution in methods, largely precipitated by global positioning system (GPS) and geographic information system (GIS) equipped mobile computers paired with virtual globe visualizations. Modern, ruggedized personal digital assistants (PDAs) and tablet PCs can record a wide spectrum of geologic data and facilitate iterative geologic map construction and evaluation on location in the field. Spatial data, maps, and interpretations can be presented in a variety of formats on virtual globes, such as Google Earth and NASA World Wind, given only a basic knowledge of scripting languages. As a case study, we present geologic maps assembled in Google Earth that are based on digital field data. Interactive features of these maps include (1) the ability to zoom, pan, and tilt the terrain and map to any desired viewpoint; (2) selectable, draped polygons representing the spatial extent of geologic units that can be rendered semi-transparent, allowing the viewer to examine the underlying terrain; (3) vertical cross sections that emerge from the subsurface in their proper location and orientation; (4) structural symbols (e.g., strike and dip), positioned at outcrop locations, that can display associated metadata; and (5) other data, such as digital photos or sketches, as clickable objects in their correct field locations.

Google Earth–based interactive geologic maps communicate data and interpretations in a format that is more intuitive and easy to grasp than the traditional format of paper maps and cross sections. The virtual three-dimensional (3-D) interface removes much of the cognitive barrier of attempting to visualize 3-D features from a two-dimensional map or cross section. Thus, the digital revolution in geologic mapping is finally providing geoscientists with tools to present important concepts in an intuitive format understandable to the expert and layperson alike.

Manuscript received 27 July 2009; accepted 13 Oct. 2009

DOI: 10.1130/GSATG70A.1

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