a picture's worth a thousand words, what's the value of creative
comes to letting the world know about the geologic processes that
created our planet, a group of geoscientists at the University of
Colorado believes it can be — no pun intended — earth shattering.
animation and public information: Call this a marriage made in heaven
— and it all started with a family vacation.
a professor of geology with the department of geological sciences
at the University of Colorado, was traveling with his family through
the spectacular geology of the Western U.S. national parks when
the idea was born:
the parks had short animations to illustrate the geologic evolution
of various parks where geology plays a key role in visitors' experiences?
that idea back to some like-minded friends and peers at CU, who
were looking for a way to take geology to "the people."
began having a common vision.
done a variety of animations of different things at different scales,"
Weimer said, "but we felt we could have the greatest impact at the
and his colleagues formed the Interactive Geology Project and got
busy generating funding sources and making contact with various
national parks to determine the level of interest in such a venture.
project, which is almost complete after about a year of work, centers
on the Colorado National Monument in western Colorado.
is the focus of research at Colorado National Monument, with the
goal of teaching visitors about the geology of the area," said team
member Ryan Crow. "We worked with William Hood, a national park
service geological volunteer, to summarize the last 300 million
years of the area's history."
be presenting a paper titled "Computer Animations in Public Outreach:
Geologic Animations in Visitor Centers of National Parks" at the
AAPG annual meeting this month.
include Weimer (who also is AAPG's current treasurer), John Roesink,
Jay Austin, Richard Couture and Byron Boyle with the University
of Colorado; William Hood, a Grand Junction, Colo., consultant;
and Laura Crossey and Karl Karlstrom with the University of New
team members will be showing the completed animations during the
meeting in the BP Visualization Center booth in the exhibits hall.
in the project, the geologists set four basic goals:
educate the public about geologic processes and evolution of landscapes.
The best places to begin such a program, they concluded, are the
U.S. national parks.
use existing computer technology to develop geologically accurate
animations that illustrate the geologic evolution of national
make the experience at national parks potentially more meaningful
with brief visual displays in visitor centers and accompanying
make these modules available for use at multiple educational levels.
geologic displays use static 3-D dioramas and 2-D diagrams, but
the group decided to use computer animation for this project. Based
on their years of teaching and lecturing, they concluded that the
public often has difficulty grasping the vast global context over
which geologic changes occur.
time scales and the violent nature of some geologic processes are
challenges, too, they said.
cognitive psychologists have demonstrated that if motion is involved
with learning, then there is a significant increase in retention
and comprehension with most subjects," Crow said. "Our goal, then,
is to design a system where motion is used to increase the public's
grasp of geologic processes."
will include such geologic processes as:
change in the processes that affect the landscape like rivers,
lakes, sand dunes and oceans.
change in the tectonic forces affecting the formation of the park
both locally and regionally.
change in the life forms.
portions of geologic history missing between various rock layers.
fairly recent phenomenon of the current landscape.
geologic time and the evolution of all these changing factors.
quality animations are five to 10 minutes long and will be displayed
in the parks' visitor centers. They will include a narration —
in laymen's language — summarizing the geology being shown.
plans to combine the animations with a series of interactive displays
for the parks that will allow the user to display different kinds
of surfaces and explore the current geography and geology of the
also will have 3-D visualization software that allows users to control
a fly-over of the national park, where different kinds of map displays
are draped over a digital terrain model. These maps include Landsat
images, shaded topography and geologic maps with geologic cross
sections that can be brought into the area.
also plans to construct a stand-alone program that will integrate
the animations with additional materials. This will allow users
to move between animation, paleogeographic maps, photographs and
additional explanatory materials.
will be downloadable and available for sale as a CD-ROM.
all of this is just a first step — project leaders hope to eventually
construct a series of animations of each major geologic period of
is to illustrate the geologic evolution of North America with an
accuracy of two to three million years, from a viewpoint of 50 kilometers
in space. These, too, will be used to place each national park into
a broader regional context, and illustrate to the viewer the continent's
constantly changing nature.
the team attempts to focus on all but the most sophisticated research
of a national park.
not to concern ourselves with Ph.D level arguments, but rather base
our research on the literature and local experts, to determine exactly
which major points should be shown," Crow said. "We combine that
research with the interpretive needs of ea}h park — what do they
want to show, what do visitors have an interest in seeing — and
compile that into one display."
added that the team also talked to children.
goal is to try and change the way geology is taught in public schools,
from grade school all the way through the collegiate level," Weimer
said. "I've always had the philosophy that if you can show geology
through animation, it will hold people's interest.
have long used 3-D visualization as a tool for problem solving,"
he continued, "and we think it is a great way to help the general
public understand geologic processes as well."
animation of the Colorado National Monument is almost complete and
should be on display at the park by this summer. The animation shows:
the Colorado National Monument has evolved over the last 300 million
deposition of the rock units in the area.
formation of the monocline in the park.
recent downcutting of the Colorado River that has produced the
has had discussions with other national parks and currently is in
the process of trying to get additional projects under way and secure
additional funding, according to Weimer. The second animation will
likely focus on the Grand Canyon National Park, where project scientists
have already begun research and a working model for the animation.
would like to do a series on half a dozen different parks and custom
tailor each display for the needs and resources of each park," Weimer
said, and they'll target the national parks with significant visitor
numbers — 300,000 to 500,000 per year — and spectacular geology.