guides in general are a distinctive and very important part of the geoscience data base.
Fossils and rocks—including such materials as well cuttings, drill cores, deep-sea cores, meteorites, and ice cores—are vital parts of the national geological data base. All require curation and research. National and local facilities abound, but there is always a risk of deterioration and even abandonment of collections because of lack of funds and interested people.
National and local collections of aerial photography, some specialized in such features as sun-angle, wavelength, and obliquity, form an important archive. For example, aerial photographs of coasts traversed by hurricanes acquired at intervals over the past 70 years show the pace of global change to a spectacular degree.
Space-based data, which are expensive to acquire, are not in all cases as well archived as some initially cheaper data. There are cases where older data tapes can, apparently, no longer be played back on the more modern computers and the older computers cannot be maintained. A separate issue is that the cost of buying current space-acquired data (such as Landsat and SPOT imagery) is so high as to prohibit its use in routine geological research.
The petroleum industry has generated an enormous amount of information in a great variety of forms. Most significant are well logs and seismic reflection data, but other forms of geophysical data such as gravity and magnetic data also are important. Relatively little of this material is in the public domain and available to the research community. However, an open market exists within the industry, and this information is being widely used. The issue of whether and how to achieve greater public access to any of these data for social or research purposes has not been fully addressed. Drill cuttings from industry wells, on the other hand, are in many cases systematically archived by state geological surveys, and both researchers and industry make use of this material.
As major petroleum companies downsize their operations and increasingly focus their attention on foreign ventures, they have less need for domestic geological and geophysical data. Because of this, their proprietary concerns have lessened. In addition, the cost of properly maintaining the data is becoming a concern. As a result, the danger exists that much of this data, collected at enormous cost (multibillions of dollars), could be lost to both research scientists and those still actively engaged in domestic exploration and production. The industry and others would welcome innovative arrangements to preserve this data resource.
The solid-earth sciences and related economic sectors are in the middle of a lasting, irreversible revolution: the digital information age is upon them. The old and new orders of analog and digital data reluctantly coexist, but the digital revolution unhaltingly progresses. In turn, the geosciences are a prime driving force, in the United States and worldwide, that compels the computer industry to develop new and powerful digital data acquisition, processing, archiving, display, and network communication technologies. U.S.-based oil companies spend $3 billion to $4 billion each year for digital data acquisition, processing, and archiving for oil exploration and related efforts. Applied geophysics, particularly, oil exploration seismology, is the single largest nonmilitary user (and buyer) of supercomputers. Thanks in part to this thrust from the geosciences and its commercial applications, the U.S. computer and information industry has attained a global leadership role that has yielded substantial economic benefits.
The transition of efforts from manual to computer-based evaluation and analysis has affected all sizes and types of organizations, from major integrated oil companies to independent consultants to universities and government agencies. With the availability of inexpensive and powerful personal computers and the emergence of sophisticated workstations and special-purpose software, the daily activities of most earth scientists now directly involve computer-processed data.
But not all subdisciplines in the solid-earth sciences have equally participated in and benefited from this unfinished digital information revolution. Many technologies still need to be developed and refined. Data format standards are badly needed. Data management and dissemination programs and centers need improvements and national policies. Economic incentives to convert to digital data usage deserve the highest priorities. National data communication networks need to be improved in capacity and geographical reach. Targeted funding is needed to bring modern digital data technologies not only to a few privileged research institutions but also to ordinary users, professional groups, public offices, and educational institutions on the broadest possible scale.
To face these challenges, there needs to be a comprehensive data-base and data analysis capability. Part of this capability is already in the making. Satellite images, digital topography, and gravity and magnetic field data are available on a global