Where Google and Microsoft have shown us what the surface of our planet looks like from above and what the heavens hold, a new project led by the British Geological Survey shows us what lies beneath the earth's crust. Called the OneGeology project, it seeks to pull geological data from researchers around the world into a single, easily-usable interactive map. The project will be officially launched on August 6th at the 33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo, Norway.
Unveiled as part of the celebration of the International Year of Planet Earth, the project has four main objectives. First, the project seeks to create "dynamic digital geological map data for the world." The map has a target scale of 1:1,000,000, which means that one centimeter on the map will be the equivalent of 10 km on the planet. At the official launch this week, 60-70 percent of the planet's surface will contain geological data on what makes up those regions of the planet.
In addition to simply creating the data, the project team wants to ensure that the initiative is both "multilateral and multinational." To accomplish this, the project will be carried out with the help of several geological organizations. To ensure that as many people can use and exploit the data as possible, the project wants to ensure that all who want to contribute can—regardless of ability level.
Similarly it wants to ensure that all can use the data as well, so it aims to "transfer know-how to those who need it."
As anyone who has done much work in the academic or research world knows, standard data formats are sometimes hard to come by. If five research groups are looking at a problem, there's a good chance that five (or more) data formats will be employed. When a project such as this seeks to bring in data from around the world, some standard must be used.
OneGeology will accept data that uses the GeoSciML (GeoScience Markup Language) format, an XML schema based on the OGC's GML language. This allows researchers to mark locations of units, structures, or fossils.
Data from WORLD CGMW 1:25M Geologic units overlayed on the planet
Credit: OneGeology An underground test drive
The maps and associated data can be found through the project's portal page. The portal itself says it is optimized for IE6, 7 and Firefox 2, yet when I tried to view it with Firefox 3 on my laptop, it said my browser was not supported. Switching over to Internet Explorer allowed me to get my hands dirty a bit and see what the map was capable of doing.
The interface is similar to Google Earth or Microsoft's Virtual Earth, where you can zoom and pan. In a fashion similar to Google Sky and Microsoft's WorldWideTelescope, you can select various data overlays that reveal more information beyond the simple optical view of the region from above. The opacity of each layer can be independently altered to allow custom maps to be viewed.
Zooming in on the east coast of the United States with geological data from the USGS and changing the cursor type to 'information,' one can learn what type of rocks are present in various locations. Similar information can be had for various geographical regions, with some areas having more than one available overlay, each from a different data source.
It should be noted that since the information comes from so many different sources, not all of the descriptive information is in English. Clicking around the world, I found regions where the information was listed in French, clearly reflecting the language of the researchers who gather the data for the first time.
Once the map becomes detailed enough, researchers behind the project hope that it will be useful to people who are searching for earth's finite resources such as minerals and oil. Not all data currently meets the resolution that the researchers want, but project supporters hope this can change in the future. While this is not the first project that tries to reveal the Earth to everyone, it is the first one where information about what lies beneath the ground hauled up into the sunlight for all to see.