Mother Earth Stripped Naked
Have you ever wondered what our world would look like stripped bare of all plants, soils, water and man-made structures? Images of the Earth as never seen before have been unveiled in what is the world’s biggest geological mapping project ever. 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.
This project is doing the same for the rocks beneath our feet that Google does for maps of the Earth’s surface. OneGeology is supported by UNESCO and six other international umbrella bodies and is the flagship project for UN International Year of Planet Earth 2008. The project was initiated in England in March 2007, when leading scientists from more than 43 countries met to agree and plan details of the project.
The portal has been in development since March 2007, and a prototype Web service has been running for most of that time. The operational service came online in August 2008. Key results of the project were presented at the 33rd International Geological Congress in Oslo, Norway on August 6, 2008, including:
1. Digital geological map data from around the globe is delivered through a distributed, dynamic and sustainable model, and accessible on the World Wide Web
2. A new Web language for geology, which allows nations to share data with each other and the public
3. Information exchange so that all nations, regardless of their development status, can take part and benefit
OneGeology accesses over 170 years of continuous scientific survey and research data and knowledge; from the industrial revolution at the
beginning of the nineteenth century to the digital revolution of the twenty-first century. The OneGeology portal displays digital geological map data from geological surveys located across the globe. Each participating geological survey places data on its own Web server (or that of an associated geological survey — its ‘buddy’). Each geological survey then registers this Web service with the portal which displays the map data from each nation.
Each geological survey places and controls its own data on its own web server. The portal accesses all of these individual servers and displays the information on the OneGeology Web site. The technology that allows the portal to connect and translate from the individual servers is called WMS (Web Map Service). The first phase of OneGeology uses implementations of the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC) Web Map Service (WMS) standard.
An OGC WMS produces maps of referenced data dynamically from geographic information. Here a ‘map’ is a visual portrayal of geographic information suitable for display on a computer screen. A map is not the data itself. WMS-produced maps are generally rendered in an image format such as PNG, GIF or JPEG, or occasionally as vector-based graphical elements in scalable vector graphics (SVG) or Web computer graphics metafile (WebCGM) formats.
Geological surveys use a variety of software (e.g. MapServer) to serve their data. Each geological survey informs the OneGeology portal of the existence of its data service by registering the URL of its server in a standard form. The portal ‘harvests’ the map data served by each country and provides users of the portal Web site with access to the data and the ability to zoom, pan and switch map data on and off. A manual or guidebook — called a ‘Cookbook’ — has been produced to provide all the information a geological survey needs to serve its nation’s digital geological map data on the Web.
OneGeology is accelerating the development and up take of a new standard to make geological map data ‘interoperable.’ This standard is known as Geoscience Markup Language (GeoSciML). GeoSciML is a GML Application Schema that can be used to transfer information about geology.
Ian Jackson, Chief of Operations at the British Geological Survey, who is coordinating OneGeology explained: “Geological maps are essential tools in finding natural
resources e.g. water, hydrocarbons and minerals, and when planning to mitigate geohazards e.g. earthquakes, volcanoes and 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 twenty-first 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, added: “Today you can go to the OneGeology Web site 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 next phase, which is already in development, is to move up to what is known as a ‘Web Feature Service’ or WFS. This provides an interface allowing requests for geographical features across the Web using platform-independent calls. Several OneGeology partners are also working on making applied data and 3- and 4-D (includes time) models available.