ITHACA, N.Y. -- A vast amount of geological data, previously only available to -- and understood by -- scientists, is now accessible to everyone, from educators to young students, through an interactive site on the World Wide Web created at Cornell University.
The Geographic Information System Interactive Map Server, created by the Institute for the Study of the Continents (INSTOC) at Cornell, allows users to view and print out maps showing major geographic features of a region, along with such information as the location of earthquake faults, a record of earthquake occurrences and technical data about the events. It draws on databases created at Cornell over the past six years.
The site is located at http://atlas.geo.cornell.edu
"It's important to note that this is not just a digital library," said Dogan Seber (pronounced SHE-ber), a geology research associate who manages the site. "It provides a set of tools that make the data accessible to anyone, anywhere, both to researchers and to small colleges, even K-12 schools, to do science or education. You can just click and get what we took years to accumulate." Seber is a member of a research group working with Muawia Barazangi, Cornell professor of geological sciences.
To make a map, users of the site select an area anywhere in the world by clicking and dragging on a map, and then choose the features they want to see, from rivers, roads and cities to topography, fault lines and earthquake records. Maps are displayed on the screen, and users can zoom in and out and add or remove features, then print out the results. The site is actually an interface to a popular Geographic Information Systems (GIS) program called ARC/INFO, widely used by professionals to combine technical data with spatial information. The software uses GIS standards, a method for storing and manipulating information that is linked to locations expressed in latitude and longitude.
In addition to maps, the Cornell system can display cross-sections of the Earth's crust and, in a few instances, 3-D views of the surface. The site includes an extensive help facility.
The databases available include sophisticated technical information of interest to geologists, Seber says. For example, there are records of the direction of earth movement in individual earthquakes. By compiling this information for a series of quakes in a particular region, geologists can determine how the tectonic plates underlying the region are moving.
There is also information on how well the land in a particular area transmits earthquake energy, which helps to predict how far away an earthquake of a given magnitude will be felt. This can be useful to structural engineers trying to determine how sturdy a building might need to be in a particular location.
Barazangi's research group has been collecting this sort of data since 1993, sometimes assembling from Cornell's own research and from databases created by others. The work has been funded by the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense (DOD), the National Science Foundation and by the petroleum industry.
Some of the funding has supported the creation of databases needed to monitor the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. The treaty compliance office of the DOD maintains its own versions of these databases, but they are also online at the Cornell web site. It is important for scientists monitoring treaty compliance to be able to access these data quickly and easily, Barazangi said. The treaty allows for on-site inspections on very short notice, he explained, and a visiting team must quickly assemble information about a site's geology.
The databases are particularly rich in data from North America, Africa and the Middle East, where Cornell has conducted broad geological research for many years. The group plans to expand their data sets to the Andes Mountains of South America and to the Tibetan plateau/Himalayas. Barazangi emphasizes, however, that the system could eventually be expanded with other databases to create a "digital Earth."
Barazangi's research group also includes research associates Eric Sandvol and David Steer and graduate students Francisco Gomez, Alexander Calvert, Graham Brew, Ali Al-Lazki and Khaled Al-Damegh, and GIS research specialists Christine Orgren and Carrie Brindisi.
Related World Wide Web sites: The following sites provide additional information on this news release. Some might not be part of the Cornell University community, and Cornell has no control over their content or availability.
Dogan Seber: http://atlas.geo.cornell.edu/people/seber.html
Cornell Department of Geological Sciences/INSTOC: http://www.geo.cornell.edu/
Muawia Barazangi: http://www.geo.cornell.edu/geology/faculty/Barazangi.html
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