Connect: How to take a virtual geology field trip
August 3, 2021
By Sandra Merten, PhD
Before heading into the field, geoscientists can prepare more efficiently by using geospatial solutions to explore virtually.
Geoscience research is a multi-step process. It begins with defining a topic or area of interest and reviewing the literature to see what is already known about it. If there are gaps in the knowledge, then the geoscience researcher needs to look for data to fill in those gaps. For geoscientists, this may mean going out into the field to collect data and gather further insights firsthand — in other words, a field trip.Field trips are also very important for geoscience students so they can learn their discipline out in the field while developing geoscience knowledge and field skills. If you are a geoscience teacher or professor, then you may be tasked with organizing these trips for the students and guiding them on an enriching and educational experience.
Field trip goals
Geoscience researchers go on field trips to better understand their area of interest or a specific geoscience feature. If there are data gaps in their research project, then they may need to collect samples or data in the field.After the field trip, researchers will analyze and interpret the information they have gathered, incorporating the field observations into their work to advance their research and publishing goals.For geoscience students, field trips are an opportunity to get experience on the ground, develop field skills like mapping and rock and mineral identification, learn how to do structural measurements, and sharpen observation skills. Collecting samples (e.g., rock samples, water samples) or data (e.g., the orientation of rock layers or faults) can also be an essential part of a field trip.For the teachers who organize the field trips, these trips are an opportunity to get students excited about geology, train early-career geoscientists, instill best-practice field work and research principles, and help geoscience students on their way to becoming skilled geoscience researchers.
Questions to consider before going into the field
Caption: Before taking an actual field trip, there are things you can do to optimize your time there and make sure your trip is safe (© istock.com)Whether you are a professor organizing a field trip, a student eager to gain real-world experience on that trip, or a researcher who needs to gather important data for their research, field trip preparation is key.For researchers, good planning helps to optimize your time so you get the most out of the field trip. As a teacher, you want to organize the trip so that the student’s learning and training is maximized.
Questions to ask when getting ready for the field trip might include:
What is the objective of the field trip?
What is already known about the area, and where are the information gaps?
What does your field trip area look like (e.g., roads, reference points, outcrops)?
What type of samples do you need to collect?
What equipment and tools do you need to bring with you?
Are the field locations accessible and safe? Are there any problems that could jeopardize your ability to do on-site exploration (e.g., areas that are dangerous, blocked off due to weather or construction, quarantine restrictions)?
It is also important to know what challenges to expect. If you are with a large group of students, you need to choose outcrops that are both suitable for the goals of the field trip and accessible for the number of students in the group. Chosen field locations should be safe for exploration and ideally not too far apart so you can maximize the amount of time actually spent in the field.
Going virtual first
Before heading out into the field, a virtual exploration can help you prepare for the real thing.
Online solutions can be very useful in virtual planning. Geofacets — an information solution designed for geoscientists — has the following features:
Location-based search targeting in your area of interest to spatially explore potential outcrop locations published in the geoscience literature.
Advanced refinement options to further narrow results to information and data that will help evaluate potential field locations (e.g., maps, outcrop photos, sections/profiles, stratigraphic columns).
Context on potential field locations and regional geology.
The ability to download content into relevant software applications (e.g., Google Earth, ArcGIS) to spatially analyze the available information, visualize the field trip itinerary and help consider field locations in regional geological context.
When Geofacets is used in combination with Google Earth, it can help:
Identify potential field locations, including logistical assessments.
Create potential trip itineraries by adding pins to Google Earth based on georeferenced maps with published outcrop locations.
Digitize relevant features from georeferenced maps in Google Earth to create new derivative maps for the area of interest (e.g., tectonic boundaries, fault lines, folds).
View locations in regional context to assess whether field trip goals can be met with the selected locations.
The combined use of Geofacets and Google Earth makes it possible to do the field trip planning and preparation in a highly visual way so that it truly does feel like taking a virtual field trip. Using Google Earth Street View, you can even virtually walk in some field trip locations.
Impact from virtual exploration
Doing a virtual field trip with the help of Geofacets is a valuable planning and time-saving measure. It helps prepare students and more actively engages them in the field trip by providing visual access to geoscience information and data, along with easy integration of information and data into Google Earth and other software. By enabling researchers to combine maps and insights from the literature with their own observations using digital solutions, Geofacets also helps researchers find inspiration and generate new ideas.
Organizers and researchers can save up to 50% of the time they would normally spend searching and formatting data during their field trip preparations thanks to Geofacets’ location-based search targeting and Google Earth integration.
Field trips are an educational, exciting and important aspect of geoscience research and education – and virtual field trips are a great way of making certain that you are fully prepared before venturing out.