February 2008 President's Letter

February 2008 President's Letter

Field Trip in Greece Was Pure Digital Inspiration

by Linda Sternbach

Here's the scene: Geologists from different countries hike to the top of a remote hill on the Peloponnese Peninsula in Greece (Figure 1). At the crest of the hill, above a plain of olive trees, they see a northeast-facing exposure of Pliocene fluvial and deltaic strata dipping toward the present-day basin. It’s too far to hike over to see the beds in detail across the canyon. Everybody has a simultaneous thought! Has anybody looked at this on Google Earth? Who brought a laptop? We need to see this in 3D!

Figure 1: Geologists on a field trip wonder what the scenery would look like in a 3D view on the free internet program Google Earth.

The field trip I just described took place after the AAPG European Conference in Athens, Greece, last November. The post-conference excursion, “The Corinth Rift and Its Giant Gilbert Deltas,” was led by Dr. Mary Ford, geology professor at the Nancy School of Geology, France. We learned about the Gulf of Corinth, believed to be one of the fastest-opening rifts in the world. The Corinth Rift is a natural laboratory for the study of sequence stratigraphy and kinematics of normal fault systems. Dr. Ford’s PhD students are placing the outcrop measurements and digital photos of the Corinth Rift into 3D GoCAD models, simulating accommodation space and sediment supply changes and modeling possible fluvial outcomes.

After the field trip, I was curious to see what the outcrop looked like on Google Earth. After zooming into the interior of Greece and finding the Corinth Rift, I used a guidebook location map of our outcrop stops to find the location of one key outcrop of the Plio-Pleistocene rift delta. Remote areas outside of towns are challenging to find on Google Earth. The field location map needs to be pretty detailed. It really helps if you have latitude/longitude coordinates(1) to put into Google Earth to find a remote outcrop off the road. But, check out the comparison of the field trip photo with the Google Earth rendition (Figures 2 and 3).

Figure 2: Plio-Pleistocene fluvial foresets downlapping into distal facies in the Corinth Rift area, Greece. Photo taken during an AAPG field trip, using a digital camera.

Figure 3: The same area as seen on the internet program Google Earth, using the 3D landscape mode. 3D digital programs are increasing the ability of geologists to accurately record observations on the outcrop.

The Google Earth aerial view is very detailed, due to excellent satellite photographs available in this area of Greece, but the side view of the canyon is distorted. This is due to the stretching of the aerial view during the draping of the image when put into 3D view.

Acknowledging that today’s geologists require digital information in every aspect of their work lives, what role does the personal visit to field exposures still play in education and teaching? Should we be renting computers and projectors instead of buses, and doing digital field trips? Digital photos now contain more detail than ever before and can be used to record field observations more impartially than geologists’ notes. If we can virtually travel to a remote field trip site using a personal computer, does this mean field trips are going to go extinct?

When I think back to what I got out of the field trip in Greece, I realized that few participants came on the field trip for the sole reason of wanting to take up research on the Corinth Rift sediments. Geologists get visual inspiration from the opportunity to see rocks up close. Casual group talk leads to getting to know fellow geologists personally, and being able to compare job assignments across companies. During the field trip experience, participants can reflect on current geological problems and find solutions in their individual assignments.

Here's why I think there will always be a need for real (not virtual) field trips in the education of geologists:
1) A live field trip yields spontaneous discussion between people with different viewpoints. Talking helps scientists think up questions for new lines of investigation.
2) Being able to handle physical material, collect and test it is still a requirement for geological investigation.
3) Last, field trips are great for networking and getting contact information to keep in touch with new friends.

Real field trips are enhanced by taking advantage of all the improvements in satellite photography and 3D visualization. I hope all future field trip leaders remember to check Google Earth to see if it can be used as a teaching aid!

(1)EDITOR’S NOTE: top of outcrop is near 38° 5' 57" N and 22° 22' 49.7" E.

Linda Sternbach
Thursday, January 31, 2008
From the President