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Geology on the map!

Nina Morgan is looking for a new road to geological understanding

Nina reaches a turning point...Geoscientist 21.1 February 2011

The British Geological Survey (BGS) is doing a great job in promoting the public understanding of geology by making tremendous amounts of geological information available free and palatably via OpenGeoscience ( Their recently launched app for iPhones/iPad (Geoscientist 20.11, p9), which provides a clever way to home into the geology under your feet, takes things further.

No doubt these resources will be widely welcomed by schools as well as digitally-enhanced members of the public who own – and know how to use – these expensive devices. But, like William Smith himself, for me nothing can beat a paper map for really putting geology into perspective. As Smith said of them in a document included with the copy of his Geological Atlas at the Hope Library (Oxford University Museum of Natural History): "By their colouring they bring up the natural features of the Country and facilitate the acquirement of Geology." Paper maps also have the obvious advantage that anyone can use them without fancy widgets, gizmos, internet, broadband, 3G or WiFi. Admittedly, unfolding a paper map in the teeth of a howling gale – let alone on the front seat of a car – is not everyone's idea of convenience.

However, a road atlas, in the standard familiar format with geology superimposed along with the roads and place names could well be. As an inexpensive vehicle to promote interest and understanding among a wide section of the public at large, a geological road atlas has a lot going for it. After all, in spite of the enthusiastic take-up of sat-nav systems by drivers, many people still don't leave home with out a road atlas.

With topographic, location and geological data now all available in digital format, marrying road maps with geological maps to produce a road atlas should be, technically, a piece of cake. Admittedly there would be some licensing issues to overcome, but recent moves towards simpler and more opening licensing arrangements should make this easier.

“But before we embark on producing a new product, we do need to ensure that the demand is there” says Jerry Hodgson, Head of CartoGIS at the BGS. “The BGS has always been keen to get its geological mapping information to users through as many routes as possible, whether this be in the form of printed maps or via web services or smartphone apps. A geological road atlas is an intriguing idea and we would be interested to hear the reaction to it from potential users.”

Now that the seeds have been sown, we need a “grass-routes” campaign for a geological road atlas! Write to BGS today, addressing your comments to Jerry Hodgson at [email protected] and get this project on the road!

* Nina Morgan is a geologist and science writer based near Oxford, and is the creator and a regular contributor of the Distant Thunder column.