University of California, Riverside

UCR GeoPad Digital Field Mapping System



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A Field Geologist's Perspective

Website Notes

Acknowledgements

Legal Disclaimer

Contact

Download Website PDF

Update History

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A Field Geologist's Perspective

I come from a mapboard and Brunton upbringing, learning to map in many tried-and-true locales in southern California. Taking a measurement or locating myself on a map was never much of a concern, but I did find frustration in the degree of uncertainty inherent in locating from 40 foot contours and that I could not instantly switch between a topo map and an aerial photograph. Carrying out PhD fieldwork in New Zealand's temperate rainforest circa 2009 brought new challenges. With line-of-sight visibility through the bush often limited to about 10 meters, I quickly came to value a Garmin eTrex Legend GPS that I had preloaded with vector topo maps that enabled +/-5m positioning and effective navigation. I learned to put a degree of trust in this technological wonder, but a trusty Silva (my Brunton needle was not weighted for the Southern Hemisphere!) and field notebook still did most of the work. Once back from the field I could compile my GPS locations, notes, and measurements into a spreadsheet and import my data into ArcGIS (not particularly novel for the time). I followed developments to introduce field tablets into geologic mapping with great interest, but for the longest times they seemed to be burdened with greater disadvantages than advantages. They were pricey, heavy, fragile, had limited battery life, poorly visible and low resolution screens, glitchy software with steep learning curves, and they still relied on external GPS and compass requiring considerable manual data entry. With time these barriers were gradually being reduced but not altogether eliminated. The last twenty years of literature contains a patchy record of attempts, updates, and calls to arms to utilize digital mapping both in teaching and in research.

 

In 2015 I was awarded a UCR grant to explore the current state of field-capable mapping technology and develop a system that could be utilized in our new capstone Summer Field Geology course, and ideally other courses offered by the Department of Earth Sciences. This made price and ease-of-use especially important considerations. Over the last two years I've field tested about a dozen different hardware and software combinations over iOS/Android/Windows platforms. Based on current technology I can confidently say that a ruggedized iPad Mini/FieldMove-based system is the best option I have found. It is the only device that I am aware of that has accurate internal sensors that can both take measurements and locate positions. The advantages far outweigh the downsides and I have used it successfully in my own fieldwork in California, Mexico, and New Zealand over the last year and a half. The technology was successfully implemented in our summer 2016 undergraduate field geology course, and I am finding other courses that could use the tablet system on field trips. It is full steam ahead for us!

 

Based on the successes of implementing this technology in teaching and research, and the general lack of websites detailing digital field mapping in the geosciences, I was compelled to create this site with the goal of sharing our methods, techniques, and experiences with the hope that it encourages further adoption of digital geologic field mapping in teaching, research, and industry.

 

I am convinced we are finally here at the cusp of a digital renaissance that will enable a new generation of accurate, data-rich geologic mapping that is more easily shared and used than ever before. I expect some pushback to this technology, but hope that generally people can approach it with an open and willing mind. Yes there are downsides and disadvantages. Yes the technology can and will be improved. How stable and long-lived can a particular system be? Can we get ten years of life out of it? There are also legitimate concerns about increasing the ease of data accessibility in teaching- are we making it easier for students to cheat? In no way do I suggest digital field mapping techniques should completely replace traditional techniques in undergraduate curriculum. I do muse over whether we are now within a long transitional era, at the end of which paper-based field mapping will go the way of the abacus, slide rule, and typewriter, obsolete or specialist technology deserving a brief mention for historical value. Make no mistake, the world is going digital! The tools are now in place to take field geology there.

 

-nic

 

bogcavefuture

2009:  Where the bog am I Garmin GPS?      2014: Waterproof digital cave mapping         2016: Digital geologic field mapping!

Website Notes

  • If you are deeply invested in Android or Windows-based systems, fret not, much of the functionality of this system and the steps walked through can be adapted.

  • This website assumes a moderate level of technical capability, such as familiarity with GIS programs, iPad, and computer-based functions.  

  • There is likely a U.S. bias to some of the steps and data discussed. Apologies. Links or suggestions relevant to other portions of the world are invited.

Acknowledgements

Development of this digital field mapping system and website content was made possible by an Innovative Use of Information Technology in Teaching Grant awarded by UCR's Academic Senate in 2015 and funded using UCR's Student Technology Fee (paid by UCR students). Their support is duly noted. Thanks also to students that helped trial the system: undergraduates who did independent research projects with me (David Guenaga, Jose Gonzalez, Anselm Krause), undergraduates of Summer 2016 GEO 102A-B Summer Field Geology, and graduate students of Fall 2016 GEO 290 Modern Field and Visualization Methods. Thanks to Abraham Juliot for help with coding and debugging portions of the website.

thanks

Legal Disclaimer

All site content (text, documents, photographs, links, etc.) is the sole product of the author and does not indicate official endorsement by UC Riverside. Reference to any specific commercial product or process by trade name, trademark, or otherwise, does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by UCR. I am not selling anything nor do I gain from the sale of any of the products discussed. The assembled information is made available for non-commercial use (e.g. teaching, research). Copying, distributing, and making derivative work from the content is allowed as long as proper attribution is given to this website. Please contact me for commercial use (permission will likely be granted but I would like to be in control of this use). Every effort is made to ensure that the material within this website is accurate and timely, however, I provide no warranty for quality or accuracy and errors or out of date information may exist. Use all content at your own risk. Please send additions or corrections to nic.barth@ucr.edu.

Contact

For additions, corrections, questions, or just to let me know that you found the content helpful please contact me at the email address below. If you would like to contribute content I would gladly consider it and acknowledge you appropriately.

Download Website PDF

A PDF containing the text of this website can be downloaded here: geopad.ucr.edu/geopadsitetext2017feb.pdf

Update History

2 February 2017: All key content in place. Site shared widely.
3 November 2016: Site goes live!

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More Information 

General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Contact Information

UCR GeoPad Digital Field Mapping System
Department of Earth Sciences

Tel: (951) 827-3183
E-mail: nic.barth@ucr.edu

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