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Meet the global gobstopper

The Earth stripped bare - and coloured in...

Earth and computer scientists from 79 nations are working together on a global project called OneGeology to produce the first digital geological map of the world, reports Ted Nield. 

Geoscientist Online 1 August 2008

The OneGeology project is doing for the rocks beneath our feet what GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps has done for the Earth’s surface. What’s more, they have achieved their goal in just over one year since initiating the global project.

OneGeology is supported by UNESCO and six other international umbrella bodies and is the flagship project for the United Nations International Year of Planet Earth. Thanks to this project, geological maps from around the globe are now accessible on the World Wide Web. A new web language has been written for geology, which allows nations to share data with each other and the public, and all the know-how about how to do this is being exchanged. Soon, all nations across the world, regardless of their development status, can take part and benefit.

IYPE Explaining the significance of this project, Ian Jackson, Chief of Operations at the British Geological Survey, which is coordinating OneGeology, says: “Geological maps are essential tools in finding natural resources like water, hydrocarbons and minerals, and when planning to mitigate geohazards like earthquakes, volcanoes or 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. Other challenges facing all nations in the 21st Century include rising sea levels, management of waste (nuclear or domestic) and storage of carbon. Knowledge of the rocks that we all live on has become increasingly important and sharing that knowledge at a time of global environmental change is crucial”.

François Robida, Deputy Head of Division, Information Systems and Technologies at the Bureau de Recherches Géologiques et Minières, France, says: “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”.

Unfortunately information about the Earth’s rocks is not always up-to-date, joined-up, and in some parts of the world is not available at all! This was the challenge that OneGeology project set out to tackle, and the scientists who did it will be unveiling the the results of their work at the 33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo, Norway on 6 August 2008. Launching the event will also be the International Year’s Good Will Ambassador, best-selling author Simon Winchester FGS.