Deep-Time Digital Earth Program Could Revolutionize Sustainable Development
Deep-time Digital Earth is a consortium of international organizations, geological surveys, research institutes and industry. It’s the first “Big Science Program” of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS). The group hopes to transform Earth science by “harmonizing global, Deep-time Digital Earth data, and sharing global geoscience knowledge.
Massive Data Integration Effort
Think of this as a massive data integration effort. The end result: linked, interoperable databases that make information available across protocols, platforms, and scientific disciplines. They will use Big Data analytics, cloud computing, data mining, machine learning and artificial intelligence to link all earth-science data and encourage collaboration among experts. The experts could be in the various branches of the geosciences (i.e., geology, geography, meteorology, geomorphology, paleontology, sedimentology, etc.) as well as engineers, social scientists, and economists.
Data brought together in new ways may provide novel glimpses into the Earth’s geological past and its future.
Research will focus on:
- Life – global biodiversity patterns
- Materials – investigation of spatial and temporal distribution
- Geography – paleogeographic reconstructions
- Climate adaptation – geoscience solutions.
What is Deep Time?
Deep time means going back to the beginning of Earth’s history. John McPhee introduced the term to describe the concept of geologic time in his Basin and Range(1981), parts of which originally appeared in the New Yorker magazine.
Deep-time data is data relating to the changing processes that the Earth has experienced through the billions of years of geological time. It includes data on the evolution of life and climate, tectonic plate movement and the evolution of the planet’s geography.
Wedding Structured, Unstructured Data
Imagine trying to integrate all the studies of Earth, a subject approximately 4.5 billion years old. The studies include both structured and unstructured data. Think of structured data as information rigidly formatted in tables and databases – like what you found at a given depth while drilling an oil well. Unstructured data, on the other hand, includes the learning found in books, where the authors structured thoughts in unique ways.
Now imagine you’re able to relate everything.
Imagine the Problems You Might Solve
Imagine relating all this data to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems. For instance:
- Population growth will greatly impact the Earth’s finite resources. It will put increasing pressure on water availability, both for drinking and agriculture.
- The availability of fertile land is limited, a situation that is exacerbated by the degradation of natural ecosystems.
- There will be increasing demand on finite sources of energy, with fossil fuels having to be extracted from previously unexploited locations.
- Other rare materials are also being used at rates that are unsustainable, for example, demand for gallium for use in emerging technologies, such as thin layer photovoltaics.
- Geological scarcity is a critical issue, complicated by the geographical distribution of resources.
Or perhaps you want to:
- Reduce vulnerability to natural hazards, such as floods
- Mitigate the effects of waste and pollution
- Understand human influence on global change
- Understand the geological processes involved in soil science
- Manage resources and sustain the environment
- Understand the relationship between geological factors and health.
The Sudden Bi-sociation of Two Previously Unrelated Planes of Thought
Imagine what collaborating with a million other scientists could lead to!
Arthur Koestler, in his landmark book, The Act of Creation, defines the creative process as “the sudden bi-sociation of two previously unrelated planes of thought.” Suddenly, while reading about one thing, you see a solution to an unrelated problem in something else.
Koestler gives hundreds of examples from the history of science, such as Newton getting dinged on the head with an apple and discovering gravity.
Who knows where Deep-time Digital Earth could lead? But I’m eager to follow it.
The San Jacinto River Connection to Deep-Time Digital Earth
Ironically, I first learned about this program from someone I corresponded with after Harvey. A Chinese student named Haipeng Li from the Colorado School of Mines working on his PhD dissertation visited this area to study erosion and deposition on the San Jacinto River. In one flood, you could see changes that might otherwise take several lifetimes. Haipeng used ReduceFlooding.com to study the aerial photos and review other scientific research archived on the site about the San Jacinto river system. Dr. Li later returned to China where he now works on the Deep-time Digital Earth Project.
You just never know where a chance encounter might lead!
Posted by Bob Rehak on April 11, 2022
1686 Days since Hurricane Harvey