Monday, 11 April 2011

People Power

In previous posts I’ve looked at how geoscience either does or doesn’t interact with people, well now it’s time to look the other way – how organisations get people involved geoscience.  The benefits, both in terms of outreach and research are great.

GSA – Geological Survey of America has its own outreach page: that features the areas to get involved with a number of 
projects – the two that are more suited to the interested, general public are:

EarthCache ‘Geocaching adventures with an geoscience twist.’ – Geocaching is a cross between orienteering and treasure hunting using GPS points, commonly they are small boxes or jars that include an object, anyone who find the box/jar can remove the object – as long as they replace it with something else.  The EarthCache is different, rather than an object, ‘their treasure is the lessons people learn about our planet when they visit the site.’ There are around 10500 different ‘EarthCaches’ and the site is enthusiastic towards the public, each Cache has an individual article written in simple(ish) language, with plenty of information and easy to follow step by step instructions as how to access the sites – it’s almost university fieldwork, but without the debt.

Understandably, there is a significant skew towards American sites, but there is a generous helping of European destinations – including a decent amount of German ones.  This is a brilliant example of outreach, it’s cheap to run, very varied, has a community aspect to it, gets geoscience into people’s mind via an esteemed society.  However this sort of outreach is fairly subtle, the whole idea of GeoCaching is that you have to look for the objects, they are 
by definition hidden and therefore people have to need to know that this project exists.

If running around isn’t for you though, The GSA has partnered with a staggering number of geological surveys and societies to develope ‘EarthTrek’ it’s also on the ever popular Twitter (although, with a less that staggering 47 followers). At present it is running a series of different projects to use ‘citizens’ as collectors of important data to track Gravestone erosion using kit that a large proportion of society may well have (GPS receiver, callipers). This gives people a double edged interest – some people may be interested in the artistry of the stones, others in the demographics, others in the composition themselves – this is a great project with a scientific (and environmental) aim

EarthTrek also runs a Quake Catcher Network, utilising the public in tracking and monitoring Earthquakes, similar schemes are worldwide, such as the UK School Seismology Project, run by the BGS, which utilised seismometers, installed in schools across the country to interest children in seismicity – in a fairly geological inactive country. These schemes are highly worthwhile, they allow children to see how real scientists study the globe, in areas of more tectonism they can be used to discuss hazards (ultimately saving lives). Going further than this, more technological laptops and desktops, within their hard drives have a small motion sensor (in order to minimise damage when dropped) can be used as micro-seismographs in a global network  to track earthquakes globally. Not only is this useful for research, it allows large sectors of the community, to if they wish get involved in what is often viewed to be a mysterious science.

Looking back to this side of the pond, the Geological Society of London, has involvement in other areas, it has a diverse number of pleasant to listen to podcasts, specifically designed to be listened to on personal media devices (or as everyone else calls them ‘ipods’). ‘casts’ include important, but often misunderstood aspects of the geosciences. The Society also has produced a nice little document, aimed at children, discussing how geology is important to people’s lives or how resources are trapped and extracted.

However, good although these resources are, they are not exhibited in full light on the societies website – and besides, as I’ve already demonstrated in earlier posts – people do not use societies to get knowledge. If you want to know about an aspect of chemistry, do you go on Wikipedia or pop along the Royal Society of Chemistry?