Technology has been altering the shape of human society and our daily lives. And now it is starting to change our perceptions of the world, literally, while giving us a closer look at corners of the world previously off-limits due to the risks. Let’s look at how technology is transforming the world of geology today. We’ll discuss a few real-world projects that are harbingers for the field as a whole.
Satellite imagery and the internet have combined to put detailed images of the Earth in front of amateur geologists. The internet has also allowed people to identify things and refer them to experts, and then they can connect with people in the area to investigate unusual findings. For example, a strange floating formation in the ocean turned out to be a mass of pumice floating in the ocean after an undersea eruption. Strange features on the ground have been found to be archaeological sites and unauthorized digs, while others remain uncertain but now have thousands of strangers trying to explain them.
Low cost local surveys via drones combined with increases in computational power and modeling allow geologists to study shifts in soil conditions captured by farmers, ranchers, land use agencies, other scientists and anyone else collecting the data. Now erosion, soil moisture levels and plant growth can be modeled in great detail because so much more information is collected and quickly analyzed.
The same modeling is allowing us to create ever more detailed maps of what the world looked like millions of years ago. For example, a team from the University of Oslo has created a 410-million-year-old reconstruction of the world. They’re sharing the model with GPlates, an open source model that lets anyone see what the world probably looked like at any stage in its early history. Tools like this are routinely taught in geology programs. You can learn more about the top geology schools and what their programs entail on a site like Quality Education and Jobs.
UAVs and ROVs
Remote operated vehicles have been a boon for undersea exploration. ROVs are routinely being used by geologists to map undersea caves, reaching far deeper than human divers without the risk of drowning.
Drones are being used for detailed mapping of mountain regions without having to send out an army of surveyors. The built-in GPS systems make mapping of various features easy, while it allows people to send out drones to map changes in the landscape after earthquakes, floods and fires without risk to themselves. For example, a drone flown into the plumes of Mount Yasur volcano discovered that there were six active vents, three smaller ones in addition to the three large ones that were already known to exist. Drones are also being retrofitted to collect samples of volcanic gasses without requiring geologists to climb the summit.
Technology is allowing us to see deeper into hidden parts of the world and map it in far greater detail. Software, computing power and shared data sets are allowing us to imagine what the world looked like years ago and better predict what it will look like in the future.