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Last Updated: Friday, 9 March 2007, 10:32 GMT
Scientists set to rock the world
Rocks pictured at Spitzkoppe, Namibia (SPL)
The OneGeology portal will come online in 2008
The world's geologists are to bring together all their maps, producing the first truly global resource on rocks.

Known as the OneGeology project, it will pool existing knowledge about what lies under our feet, and present it through one web portal.

Led by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the effort calls on scientists from more than 55 nations.

It hopes to be able to display searchable rock data for the entire Earth down to the scale of 1:1,000,000.

"There is currently a problem of accessibility," said Ian Jackson, the OneGeology Project Leader from BGS.

"We know the data exists; but it's not always clear where it is, and some of it is still in paper form. We want to make more available the data that has already being surveyed, modelled and paid for."

'Big' issues

The project is expected to drive new science by showing up gaps in knowledge.

It should also become a key support tool for cross-national agencies and companies that want to investigate and understand the Earth's exploitable resources, such as its mineral and water reserves.

Professor John Ludden, executive director of BGS, cited the example of carbon capture and storage, which is being proposed as a possible solution to global warming.

This would see carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the main greenhouse gases, captured at power stations and buried deep underground.

"Some of this is what I call 'big science' - science that no one country or geological survey can do on its own," he said.

"Geological surveys across the world are involved in trying to work out how you put CO2 underground and keep it there, and these sorts of databases are going to be required."

The project, which has the backing of Unesco and five other global umbrella bodies, will be a centrepiece of the International Year of Planet Earth in 2008.

Scientists would expect have the first release of their portal up and running by then. It will present the information with the use of a "virtual globe", in much the same way as Google Earth now presents satellite images.

National differences

Although the 1:1,000,000 scale is the goal, the project realises that for some parts of the world this simply may not be possible.

"Some nations may take a view that 1:1,000,000 is too commercially sensitive to release," concedes Ian Jackson.

"We hope not - but at least if they can make available 1:5,000,000 scale, we can put that up, and some details about where you could go for more details."

It is also envisaged that some work will need to be done to marry up the maps at national boundaries where geologists of connecting countries have interpreted their surface rocks slightly differently.

The portal will work on a distributed model, with national surveys retaining their data but allowing it to be interrogated through the portal using a common computer mark up language such as GeoSciML.

Much of the content - although not all of it - will be free to browse.

The OneGeology's inaugural event is a meeting in Brighton, UK, from 12-16 March.

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