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Kansas Geological Survey, Open File Report 96-37

Future of Scientific Communication, part 5 of 6

Electronic Possibilities in the Earth Sciences

The various lessons learned from experiments in on-line scientific communication in the broader sciences are also carrying over to the earth sciences. In the earth sciences electronic technologies are being applied to problems of assembling and ordering vast amounts of primary information that comprise a regional study, map, or new seismic-processing algorithm. These same electronic technologies can be used to provide broad accessibility to primary information and intermediate research products (such as digital geographic and geologic components of maps, interpreted and uninterpreted subsurface data, geochemical analyses, thin section images, and other traditionally unpublished material). These "non-traditional" research products are usually generated with electronic techniques, but are archived as paper copies that are difficult to retrieve. Electronic publication has the potential to increase access to primary data and intermediate products along with the traditional research paper. Inclusion of data and intermediate products facilitates research reproducibility and technology transfer. Access to the data and research products permits the consumer of earth science research to duplicate and modify research results to fit site- and subject-specific requirements. The following is a brief survey of selected experiments in electronic publishing that are underway in the earth sciences with particular emphasis on the Kansas Geological Survey (

On-line Publishing in the Earth Sciences

The Stanford Exploration Project ( is a research group that has been a leader in experimenting with the Internet for publication, distribution, and creation of research products (Claerbout, 1994). The project has emphasized a style of electronic publication that gives priority to technology transfer and reproducible research. The goal is to provide complete documentation of the research process with preservation of data and intermediate files (Schwab, and others, 1996). In addition the research group at Stanford is creating File Transfer Protocol (FTP) access for authors who want on-line preprints of articles submitted to the journal GEOPHYSICS. Immediate access can be provided to research results while the peer review process is completed.

At the Texas Bureau of Economic Geology ( on-line articles on salt tectonics offer three-dimensional graphics and animations (Guglielmo and others, 1995a,b). These articles contain traditional text and graphics, and animations of salt movement simulations through time. The animation shows the evolution of complex allochthonous salt sheets and represents 54 hours of the original experiment. The animations provide the reader with ability to interact with the research product. The interaction is not feasible within the format of traditional paper publication.

The Geological Society of America ( provides access to table of contents and abstracts of its journals (GSA Bulletin and Geology). The Society has provided access to the full text and figures of GSA TODAY using a portable document format (Adobe Acrobat). The portable document formats uses inexpensive software viewers to allow page images to be transmitted and received electronically without loss of content or formatting data and without noticeable image degradation. In another experiment GSA has instituted online submission and selection processes for its annual meetings. The use of electronic publication enabled the Society and the authors to save costs (estimated at $15,000 to $20,000) and provide searchable full-text access to the program and abstracts for the GSA annual meeting.

The American Geophysical Union in cooperation with the American Meteorological Society, and the Association of American Geographers has initiated a new electronic journal titled EARTH INTERACTIONS ( This new on-line publication is intended to use capabilities of electronic communication technology to increase the publication value of research results. The proposed on-line journal will provide the opportunity to use computer animation and other visualization techniques. The research articles are planned to contain text integrated with all types of graphics, including motion and digital data accessible through direct links.

On-line Publication at the Kansas Geological Survey

The Kansas Geological Survey views electronic publication as an important communication channel that can provide the earth science community and the interested public rapid, cost-effective access to natural resource data, information sources, publications, and technology. Electronic publishing provides flexible just-in-time accessibility to fundamental geologic and geographic data, to data compilations, and to the latest research and technical studies. Research products are available on-line as they are completed, at a fraction of the time and cost of paper publication. Dynamic publications with relational links and search engines allow users to modify the scale and focus to their particular requirements, and permit access to data in a compatible format for research validation and risk analysis. The Kansas Geological Survey is working on a number of experiments in electronic publication (htttp://

Formatted text and graphics that closely replicate traditional paper publications are used to provide access to the Kansas Geological Survey's Public Information Circulars and similar publications ( Public Information Circulars are intended to reach and appeal to practitioners, policy makers and the interested public that may be interested in the results of research but do not have the time or background to understand the specialized language of the particular earth science subdiscipline. Additional public outreach is underway with interactive publications such as the Physiographic Map of Kansas and A Primer of Kansas Geology that provide dynamic educational tools about the geology and geography of Kansas (

Moving beyond access to electronic versions of printed products, electronic technologies can be applied to improve access to data and information compilations. Examples include online access to updated versions of the Bibliography of Kansas Geology (Sorensen and others, 1989; Sorensen, 1994) ( and Annual and Cumulative Oil and Gas Production Report ( User control of search and retrieval improves the efficiency of the original paper publication, and electronic updating decreases the effort and cost of providing current information. Moving beyond providing secondary resources (catalogs, bibliographical resources, information about information), electronic technologies can be applied to problems of assembling and ordering the primary information itself. In the earth sciences we can improve the quality and accessibility to what in the world of print might be called "non-traditional" research products. These include such items as digital geographic and geologic components of maps and other unpublished archival material. The basic digital map data that forms the foundation of geologic research products (e.g., political boundaries and digital elevation models) can be obtained online through the Kansas Data Access and Support Center ( Selected geologic and other maps that were previously generated with digital data and published as paper copies are now archived and distributed in electronic form at a fraction of the cost ( In addition to improved distribution these electronic maps provide a product that can be loaded into mapping or drawing software and modified to fit specific user needs. Other examples of on-line publication include selected Kansas Geological Survey Open-File Reports ( Publishing these reports on-line provides access to color figures and electronic data that would be expensive or less efficient to print. On-line publication removes the limitations and costs of print on paper, and provides a research product that is dynamic, mutable, and interactive.

The Digital Petroleum Atlas ( attempts to radically change traditional approaches to generating and disseminating petroleum field, play and basin studies (Gerhard and others, 1996). The Digital Petroleum Atlas (DPA) is an online product that is designed to be dynamic, evolving with new structure, research results, and data. Through complete user access to underlying data that is typically unpublished, the DPA alters the relationship between interpretative result and data. Active links, graphical user interfaces and search mechanisms of the DPA provide a dynamic product with which the reader can interact. The DPA also contains forms of publication that can only be displayed in an electronic environment. These include hypertext search and manipulation functions to customize maps and view animated products (e.g., exploration histories through time). Electronic products such as the DPA have one advantage over print: they are far easier to transmit for purposes of resource sharing. Products modified to better fit user needs can be created on demand out of available digital materials.

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Kansas Geological Survey, Open-File Report 96-37
Placed online Sept. 1996
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