Every geologist recalls undergraduate field mapping trips – walking hills and hitting rocks in all kinds of weather.
Then there were great nights back at camp supposedly plotting up data collected during the day but more so enjoying the social side of the field trip. Experiences included squinting at a rock outcrop to see the S3 schistosity and taking measurements to discover an obscure macro-scale fold hinge. After all the effort, field trips delivered important lessons to the developing geologist including the appreciation of field observation, data collection and synthesis, geological interpretation and report presentation. Ultimately the best geologists are made from multiple field mapping trips and observing the most rocks.
However, field mapping comes at a financial and time cost. Important and diverse geological sites are often distant and may not be easily accessed. Field trips also require extensive planning and organisation with consideration of participant safety and other administrative requirements. It is therefore important to maximise the benefits of field work opportunities.
The emergence of technologies enabling virtual geology images provides such an opportunity. Virtual geology cannot replace field based learning but provides convenient digital access to the rocks at any time. Imagine students being able to visit the outcrop before and after a field trip to consolidate field-based learning.
AusGeol is an organisation that provides a virtual library of select parts of Australia’s geology. The library is constantly growing and provides a useful supplement to field-based geology. AusGeol is a collaborative national project funded by the Australian Government through the Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT). The project is coordinated by the University of Tasmania with a range of OLT partners including the Australian National University, the University of Western Australia, the University of Queensland and the University of Melbourne. A host of other universities and organisations are also involved.
The virtual library offers free downloadable visualisations of geological features as three dimensional photo-realistic models, full spherical panoramas, ‘gigapixel’ images and virtual tours. A web-based digital map of Australia provides links to the downloadable files. The range of digital geology images is made available through the use of recent image capture and processing technology that delivers rapid and cost-effective results.
Development of additional resources to accompany the AusGeol visualisations is currently underway, including lesson plans with activities and worked answers along with student self-paced educational activities. These resources will be made available to registered tertiary earth science educators and open education providers. Additional resources are also being developed for secondary education use through collaboration with the Teachers Earth Science Education Program (TESEP).
The AusGeol website (www.ausgeol.org) provides ready access to the virtual library along with other background information. The AusGeol project welcomes contributions and imagery from all geoscientists. If you would like to get involved then contact Michael Roach (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the University of Tasmania.
The following images provide examples of some of the locations currently included in the virtual library.