Communicating with the non-geologist -- The importance of standards, for paper and digital maps

Category Other
Group GSI.IR
Location International Geological Congress,oslo 2008
Author Soller, David; Stamm, Nancy
Holding Date 11 October 2008

"...the [geologic] maps are designed not so much for the specialist as for the people, who justly look to the official geologist for a classification, nomenclature, and system of convention so simple and expressive as to render his work immediately [understandable]..." (Powell, 1888). These words eloquently expressed the purpose of geologic mapping and the need to clearly communicate to the public, and they are at least as true today as when they were written. They serve as the guiding philosophy for the National Geologic Map Database project (NGMDB;, a Congressionally-mandated collaboration between the USGS and Association of American State Geologists (AASG).
For the past decade, the NGMDB’s goal has been to help users find the information they need to address a variety of societal and research applications. Society, businesses, and private citizens are not faced with simple, one-dimensional issues; in order for geologic information to be used, it must be presented in a readily comprehensible form that can be integrated with other types of information. In other words, the presentation of geologic information, whether in paper map or database form, must to some extent be standardized. Geological surveys produce individual maps, reports, and datasets in a wide variety of formats and layouts, each containing specialized scientific terminology. Without a doubt, these have proven valuable to our users. With this in mind, the NGMDB project has been strongly involved in geologic map standards-development efforts that include: 1) the FGDC Geologic Map Symbolization Standard, 2) the North American Data Model’s (NADM) Science Language, 3) the NADM Conceptual Data Model, and 4) the IUGS-sponsored data-interchange format "GeoSciML". These standards are being developed through the efforts of many hundreds of geologists across the world, which helps to ensure their adoption.
Without question, standards are most effectively developed through consensus among scientific and technical experts, as opposed to a "top-down", directive-based approach. For the past 12 years, the AASG/USGS-sponsored National Geologic Map Database project has used a consensus-based approach to standards development (see The technical discussions held during the 11 annual Digital Mapping Techniques Workshops (see have been an invaluable aspect of this effort; those workshops have served as a venue for public debate on science and technical standards and practices including the scanning and archiving of unpublished data, and have resulted in significant convergence in techniques, guidelines, and standards among the geological surveys in the U.S.