Utpal Borpujari

September 29, 2008

What lies beneath: ‘OneGeology’, by geologists, on the Net, for the mankind

Filed under: Geology,Media,Sakaal Times,Science — Utpal Borpujari @ 12:29 pm

By Utpal Borpujari

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath your feet? If you have not, you better do, because that is what influences a hell lot of things around you. Consider this: whether a location is fit to construct a house upon is dependant on the soil and rock type of the area, the beer and whisky you drink is dependant on the quality of the water drawn from the local aquifer that stores ancient aqua, and a dam or a bridge location is heavily influenced by the rock type. In simple terms, it’s all about geology. And why, even languages have been influenced by Geology (talk of a “landslide” victory), movies get made on things geological (The Jurassic Park, Volcano), artists have got inspired by geological landscapes, and earliest human tools were devised out of rocks . And yes, musically speaking, the last opera of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , Magic Flute, is said to have been the result of his close association with prominent geologists of his time.

But is not geology a science that is meant to be, well, studied only by geologists? Well, this is the logic that is being sought to be overturned by an international project involving 79 nations, that not only seeks to provide global geological information at the click of a mouse to professional users like mineral explorers and bridge builders, but also make geology accessible to the commoner who might want to just see how the world looks like geologically. Welcome to OneGeology, a global project – incidentally, India is not yet a part of it though Nepal, Afghanistan and Bangladesh are – that is in the process of creating a digital geological map of the world accessible to all, whether scientist and engineers or the commoner.

Touted as the world’s biggest geological mapping project ever, OneGeology has earth and computer scientists from the participating countries working in tandem to create something that its creators say would be for rocks beneath our feet what Google does for maps of the earth’s surface. Supported by major international bodies like UNESCO, the network of geological surveys around the world, the Commission for the Geological Map of the World (CGMW), International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS), International Year of Planet Earth (IYPE) and the International Framework of the International Steering Committee for Global Mapping (ISCGM), the project aims at making accessible to any web surfer geological maps from around the world and allowing nations to share data with one another and the public for the benefit of the mankind. 

The significance of the project, formally unveiled at the 33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo August six, is explained eloquently by British Geological Survey’s chief of operations Ian Jackson, “Geological maps are essential tools in finding natural resources like water, hydrocarbons and minerals, and when planning to mitigate geohazards like earthquakes, volcanoes and radon.”  The OneGeology portal will allow Internet users to plot two-dimensional maps of rock types and their ages in any pre-selected location. Jackson says that the tool will help provide faster international response to natural disasters, waste management and climate change. And it goes without saying that it will be immensely beneficial to mineral exploration countries. And experts say that allowing such easy access to geological data could help attract huge investments to mineral-rich countries. A digital geological map available on the Net will also help developing nations to properly build their economies apart from tackling challenges like rising sea levels due to global warming and management of nuclear and other such hazardous waste.             

According to François Robida, deputy head of division of Information Systems and Technologies at the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, France, “Today you can go to the OneGeology website and get geological maps from across the globe — from an overview of our entire planet, to larger scale maps of the rocks of individual nations. You also have the ability to hop from this web site to higher resolution applied maps and data on linked national web sites. Participating nations are contributing to a legacy for humankind; by acting locally they are thinking globally”. The project has been planned as a distributed model in which a dynamic set of geological data will be provided by geological surveys of various nations and organisations like those dealing with polar and marine surveys to the web portal, and frequently updated and improved reflecting the latest data they possess. State -of-the-art technology from geosciences, data modelling and information management with worldwide expertise and experience in lithological and stratigraphical classification will be utilized to develop the maps. The project will be closely interlinked with the IUGS’ Commission for the Management and Application of Geoscience Information (CGI) and in particular its work on a global data model and interchange standard – GeoSciML. (GeoScience Markup Language).

The whole thing took off in March, 2007, when 81 geologists from 43 countries met at Brighton, UK, to consider whether they be prepared to collaborate to create a global geological map dataset. The answer, of course, was a resounding “yes” and the idea was christened as “OneGeology”. The Brighton meeting also produced a unanimous accord that provides the governance, technical and political essentials for OneGeology.

A Technical work group was set up to provide a methodology and series of “user cookbooks” to guide participants through the process of creating digital scans of paper maps if digital GIS data are not available, up to “serving” it on the web. To overcome data licensing and ownership issues, those behind OneGeology have decided that the map data served as part of OneGeology will remain in the ownership of the originating geological survey or organisation, and ideally be available at no cost. Make web-accessible the best available geological map data worldwide at a scale of about 1: 1 million, as a geological survey contribution to the International Year of Planet Earth,” says the mission statement, and OneGeology seems truly on the path to achieve that.

(Published in Sakaal Times, www.sakaaltimes.com, 17-08-2008)


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