Prof Mike Stephenson appointed president of new Deep Time Digital Earth programme

Prof Michael Stephenson
Prof Mike Stephenson of the British Geological Survey (BGS) has been appointed president of the Deep Time Digital Earth (DDE) programme, a prestigious and possibly world-changing new initiative in geology. This is the first 'Recognised Big Science Program' of the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS).

The IUGS is the premier geological organisation in the world, with 121 national members. Founded in 1961, IUGS is a member of the International Council of Science and promotes and encourages the study of geological problems, especially those of worldwide significance, and supports and facilitates international and interdisciplinary cooperation in the earth sciences.

The new programme, which will seek to revolutionise geological data, is being discussed at an international meeting in February in Beijing, China, drawing geoscientists from across the world.

The DDE programme's aim is simple but very ambitious: to harmonise 'deep-time' digital geological data. Deep-time data are data relating to the changing processes that the Earth has experienced through the millions of years of geological time. They include data on the evolution of life and climate, tectonic plate movement and the evolution of the planet's geography. Through DDE, data will be made available in easily used 'hubs' providing insights into the distribution and value of earth resources and materials, as well as earth hazards. Data brought together in new ways may provide novel glimpses into the Earth's geological past and its future.

An example of how DDE will work concerns the evolutionary history of the biosphere. Previous analyses of long-term paleobiodiversity change were mostly at a resolution of about 10 million years, which is too coarse to reveal fine details of past biodiversity changes. Linked databases in DDE could provide high-resolution (10-100 kyr) diversity patterns. In the realm of minerals, DDE could provide integration of database systems for mapping clusters of porphyry copper deposits (PCDs) by linking georeferenced plate motion and geometric properties of subducted slab data.

Data and databases in dispersed form will come together through DDE at a time when informatics and computing are evolving fast and may help to solve some of the biggest geoscience questions that still remain.

The project has an ambitious time frame but aims to report its first progress at the 36th International Geological Congress in New Delhi in March 2020.

If you want to know more, read Prof Stephenson's blog Setting 'long tail' geological data free.


20 February 2019