Page last updated at 18:14 GMT, Thursday, 31 July 2008 19:14 UK

Geological mapping gets joined up

By Jennifer Carpenter
Science reporter, BBC News

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First global geological map on the web

The world's geologists have dug out their maps and are sticking them together to produce the first truly global resource of the world's rocks.

The OneGeology project pools existing data about what lies under our feet and has made it available on the web.

Led by the British Geological Survey (BGS), the project involved geologists from 80 nations.

Between 60% and 70% of the Earth's surface is now available down to the scale of 1:1,000,000.

"That's 1cm for every 10km of the Earth's surface," explained Ian Jackson from the BGS and leader of the OneGeology Project.

"With that resolution, people can focus in on a small part of their city.

Geological globe (CGMW)
The project pools existing data on the world's rocks

"Eventually, people will be able to get up close and see the rocks beneath their house."

Mr Jackson said this was because the geological maps were being constantly updated.

"Every time someone bores a hole in the ground, and hauls out some rock, we can refine our maps a little bit more."

Project organisers explained that what is novel about this project is that it takes local geological information and makes it global.

Useful rocks

The resource displays geological information with the use of a "virtual globe", in much the same way as Google Earth now presents satellite images.

Eventually, it is hoped that the geological maps will be detailed enough to help companies find the Earth's exploitable resources, such as minerals and oil.

Mr Jackson suggested that the project should encourage the mining of minerals in developing countries, by making maps available that were previously unavailable to outside investors.

The developers of the system added that it would also help scientists and engineers learn more about the Earth and its environmental changes.

"Rocks are not inert, they influence the supply of water and the formation of soil, and so impact flooding and agriculture."

How low can you go?

Researchers at the BGS hope that by making geological surveys global, they can encourage "big science" - research that no one country or geological survey could do on its own.

By crossing national borders, the "joined-up geology" should foster international initiatives that will target global problems, such as climate change.

"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."

At present, most of the globe is available at the scale of 1:1,000,000.

"However, some nations take the view that 1:1,000,000 is too commercially sensitive to release," conceded Mr Jackson.

"Other parts of the world have not been mapped thoroughly enough to give us the resolution we would like."

The project is the first global geological map that is constantly updated, so the resolution will only get better. In France and Britain, users of the OneGeology resource can already look at the rocks that lie directly beneath their feet in 3D.




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