Cornell's Digital Earth Project offers global database and mapping tool for geologists, students and teachers

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An institute at Cornell University is building a "digital Earth" that will become an important resource for geoscience researchers and also will provide easy-to-use teaching tools for educators from elementary school through college.

The Digital Earth Project, part of the Cornell Geoscience Information System (GIS), is a global database created by the Institute for the Study of the Continents (INSTOC) at Cornell to make accessible geological information accumulated by Cornell researchers over the last eight years. The GIS includes over 100 different data sets on the structure of the Earth's crust, location of earthquake faults, a record of earthquake and volcanic events, magnetic and gravity measurements and descriptions of aquifers, along with details of surface topography. Interactive tools allow users -- from advanced researchers to elementary schoolchildren -- to create maps with almost any selection and combination of the data.

The GIS site is at .

Dogan Seber, a senior research associate with INSTOC, will describe the Digital Earth Project in a talk, "Development of A Geoscience Knowledge Node for Research and Education," at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America in Boston Nov. 5 to 8. Seber will give his talk Monday, Nov. 5, as part of a session, "Databases to Knowledge Bases: The Informatics Revolution," and will present a poster session describing the project on Tuesday morning.

"The potential of having all [geoscience] information and knowledge along with access, modeling and visualization tools under the fingertips of a user represents a power that has rarely been tapped," Seber says.

The web site will become part of the National Science Digital Library, a National Science Foundation (NSF) project to make professional scientific databases widely and easily available for education. In September, INSTOC received two grants totaling $770,000 from the NSF for further development.

The project builds on extensive previous work by Cornell. The Cornell Solid Earth Information System (SEIS), which contained detailed information about the Earth's crust drawn largely from Cornell research in the Middle East, North Africa and the United States, now is being expanded with data provided by many other researchers to create the global database.

Originally, most of this data could be accessed only with specialized software. The Cornell site, however, incorporates a Java applet that allows users to create maps of any location they choose, displaying whatever data they wish. Users also can create cross-sections of the Earth's crust between any two points and analyze sea-level changes interactively. Future plans include a global seismicity analysis tool, an earthquake locator tool, tools to study volcanism and its relation with plate boundaries, plate tectonics and ages of the ocean floor.

There are many pages of tutorials explaining basic concepts of geology and guiding students and teachers in using the database. Alexandra Moore, Cornell visiting professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, has been testing the tools in her classes.

Seber is assisted by INSTOC research aides Christine Sandvol, Carrie Brindisi and Dan Danowski and works with Muawia Barazangi, Cornell professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and associate director of INSTOC. The earlier work on SEIS was funded by the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the NSF and the petroleum industry.