Geologists Study Technology Impact Data Collection

webPavlis,-TerryGeologists at James Madison University in Virginia and The University of Texas at El Paso are working on National Science Foundation-funded research to determine if smart phones can replace analog compasses used by geologists in their fieldwork.

Terry Pavlis, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at UTEP, and Steven Whitmeyer, Ph.D., from JMU were awarded $38,000 to conduct the research.

Geologists routinely make measurements of the orientations of geologic features. The device used to make these measurements has not changed since the 19th century: a simple analog compass/inclinometer, often referred to as a geologist’s compass.

Smartphones are typically equipped with a magnetic sensor and an accelerometer that allow the device to serve as a digital equivalent to the geologist’s compass.

“There is extensive anecdotal evidence that many of these devices are unreliable and using them as field measurement devices could generate large errors,” Pavlis explained. “This project seeks to address this problem by a careful statistical analysis comparing these devices to a traditional geologist’s compass.”

To explore a range of devices, the project will seek help from students participating in field classes at James Madison University and UTEP who will use their personal devices as test cases, comparing their phone’s data to measurements they make with a traditional geologist’s compass.