American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

AGI Washington Workshop on Geoscience Data Preservation
July 27-29, 1996

In late July, AGI convened a Washington workshop to discuss geoscience data preservation and to rally support for AGI's National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS) effort. The following position statements were developed by workshop participants and distributed the following day in meetings on Capitol Hill and with federal agency officials. A press release on the workshop is also available at this site.


A treasurehouse of geoscience information could soon become available to the Nation. These data, gathered at great expense by the private sector, are readily applicable to many areas of applied and basic research in energy and mineral resources, engineering hydrology, mapping, natural hazards mitigation, paleontology, and soil resources. But immediate action is needed or these data may be lost.

The American Geological Institute (AGI) is leading an effort to preserve these data along with public sector data by developing a National Geoscience Data Repository System (NGDRS). Working with the Department of Energy, industry, state geological surveys, museums, and universities, AGI seeks to preserve these data collections and to improve the public accessibility of data. The project was initiated in response to the impending loss of vast quantities of seismic, drill core, cuttings, and other types of geoscientific data collected by the major oil and gas companies but now in jeopardy due to decreased domestic operations.

A feasibility study determined that companies are willing to donate billions of dollars worth of seismic, drill core, and other geoscientific data types to the public domain. The NGDRS would serve as the mechanism to facilitate this transfer to existing and newly created public-domain facilities and, through the development of an electronically integrated system, improve public access to these and other data in the public domain.

We have a unique opportunity to preserve and make available the following:

The NGDRS will ensure that this national treasure is protected and preserved for today's public use and for the environmental and resource needs of future generations.

The American Geological Institute is a nonprofit federation of 29 geoscientific and professional associations that represent more than 80,000 geologists, geophysicists, and other earth scientists. In addition, 115 colleges and universities are AGI Academic Associates, and 30 private companies are AGI Corporate Members.


For decades, the U. S. Geological Survey has compiled and printed topographic maps for public use. Recently, however, the increasing demand for digital-map data has prompted the USGS to re-evaluate the types of information that will be maintained on topographic maps and how this information will be made available to the public. A number of the proposed changes will degrade the quality of the paper maps including, but are not limited to, the following:

The USGS is proposing that digital data for hydrography (streams and lakes), transportation (roads), boundaries (state and county lines), public land surveys, and elevation (digital elevation models, not contours) be revised and maintained in electronic format. The remaining map information (e.g., contours, vegetation, man-made features) would not be maintained.

Maintenance and updating of features remaining on the maps will be accomplished independently by State agencies or in conjunction with the USGS. The USGS will develop suggested standards for others to follow, but they will no longer be able to ensure that national standards of content or accuracy are met. For example, individual state departments of transportation, in response to their own specific needs, could digitize only those highway features that they consider important, rather than follow the previously developed standards. As a result, certain types of roads might be omitted, or distinctions might not be made between different classes of highways.

Thus, the changes that the USGS is in process of implementing with respect to the form and content of the traditional 7.5-minute (1:24,000) topographic quadrangle map will severely degrade its utility for the average citizen. As the USGS converts this map series into a new digital format, steps should be taken to ensure that, at a minimum, the current level of quality and content is preserved. By doing so, the best public interest will be served in maintaining, and improving to the extent practical, the best topographic map coverage in the world.

Workshop Participants

Warren Allmon -- Director, Paleontological Research Institution (Ithaca NY)

Larry Brown -- Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Department of Geological Sciences, Cornell University (Ithaca NY)

Robert Clayton -- Professor, Seismological Laboratory, California Inst. of Technology (Pasadena CA)

William Fisher -- AGI Past-President and Director Emeritus, Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin (Austin TX)

Steven Goolsby -- Chairman, Sample Preservation Committee, Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists (Denver CO)

Robert Graebner -- Independent Geophysical Consultant (Dallas TX)

Claudia Hackbarth -- GSA Geology & Public Policy Committee and Senior Research Engineer, Pecten International (Houston TX)

Donald Haney -- AGI Past-President and Director, Kentucky Geological Survey (Lexington KY)

Robert Hatcher -- AGI President and UT/ORNL Distinguished Scientist, University of Tennessee/Oak Ridge National Laboratory (Knoxville TN)

Tom Henyey -- Executive Director, Southern California Earthquake Center (Los Angeles CA)

Robert Jordan -- Director, Delaware Geological Survey (Newark DE)

Philip LaMoreaux -- Editor-in-Chief, Environmental Geology and President, P.E. LaMoreaux and Associates (Tuscaloosa AL)

Charles Mankin -- AGI Past-President and Director, Oklahoma Geological Survey (Norman OK)

John Pojeta -- Emeritus Scientist, U.S. Geological Survey and Research Associate, Smithsonian Institution (Washington DC)

David Verardo -- AEG Member of AGI Govt. Affairs Program Advisory Cmte. and Professor, University of Virginia (Charlottesville VA)

AGI Staff
Marcus Milling, Executive Director
David Applegate, Government Affairs Director
John Dragonetti, Gov't. Affairs Senior Advisor
Heidi Mohlman, Gov't. Affairs Intern

Please send any comments or requests for information to the AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last updated August 23, 1996

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