For the first time in 35 years, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has released a geologic map of the state of Alaska – this time in a digital format. The new map combines over a century of work, incorporating over 750 references, some dating as far back as 1908 and others as recently as 2015.
‘The map itself is simply a derivative of the digitised database of geologic information that we have already built,’ says Frederic Wilson, research geologist at the USGS and lead author of the map. ‘Really, it’s the treasure trove of information in the database that makes this map special and that information is part of the release.’
Traditionally, the USGS has released a geologic map of Alaska’s 650,000 square miles every 20 years. However, it was the transition from print to digital that took the extra 15 years, as well as critical changes in the science of geology. ‘Designing the database (and counting on the fact that someone would develop critical software links) took some time,’ says Wilson. ‘Also, the entire data set needed to reconcile the paradigm shift to plate tectonics during last century.’ The issue was that the original source maps were made by different generations of geologists, mapping with very different ideas. In fact, several of the older maps were completed before the concepts of plate tectonics existed.
In a press release, USGS has said that the accessibility of the new map will be a help to extractive industries – often the priority in Alaska’s resource-based economy. Republican senator for the state, Lisa Murkowski, said of the map: ‘a better understanding of Alaska’s geology is vital to our state’s future. [The map is] a real contribution to our state, from the scientific work it embodies to the responsible resource production it may facilitate.’
Wilson hopes that the map will prove useful to academics and land management agencies, such as Alaska’s National Park Service. ‘I also believe that it can be utilised in combination with other databases to underpin ecosystem studies; its use is only limited by the imagination of the users. This is one of the major values of the map data being digital.’