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Digital mapping, Department of Geology, University of Kansas

Students using field computer at Nevada part of KU field camp.

Instructors: Doug Walker and Danny Stockli

We have been using laptops in field mapping since 1998. Ross Black, Diane Kamola, and I (DW) got a grant in 1997 to develop GIS applications for geology, and one of the projects was taking laptops and GIS into the field. We started by purchasing ruggedized laptops and writing an extension for ArcView 3.2 to allow for standardized vocabulary and easy drawing for field mapping. Our first classes were a group of graduate students in January and our undergraduate students in summer field camp of 1998. Right now (2005) we use laptops and GIS software in a graduate field course and the last 3 weeks of our undergraduate field camp.  All of our tectonics graduate students use the computers and software in their field work (Nevada, California, Tibet, Saudi Arabia, etc.), as do several of the sedimentology/stratigraphy students. We have also taught short courses to several different groups.

We started with ArcView 3.2 and are now using ArcGIS 9.  Students are very bullish on the whole digital experience and really enjoy and value having a completed map in the field. They also learn a lot about GIS, databases, and visualization.

Our philosophy has also been to use off the shelf hardware and software, and to try to stay with "normal" equipment. The field computers are described in detail below. Maps and reports are generated on a simple hardware platform without the need for file transfer and updating. I know some groups work with PDAs. Our experience with these has not been so good. They are fantastic data loggers (best equipment for this), but are too limited for mapping. They have small screens, and most software is limited to how you interact with the computer. For example, we constantly use the image processing part of ArcView and ArcGIS to enhance parts of images, change color schemes, etc.

If you want a little historical perspective, you can read an article in GEOTIMES that I (DW) had with Ross Black in 2000. This describe our experiences with field mapping over the first couple of years. Here is the link - Mapping the Outcrop.

Students at Nevada part of KU field camp using older Toughbook 34.