110. First Use of Computers in Field Mapping (1970)

First Use of Computers in Field Mapping

In 1965, it was clear that the massive amounts of data being collected during a Geological Survey of Canada mapping project covering 11,000 square kilometres of the Coast Mountains, British Columbia, could not be handled by conventional means. Computer assistance was required.

That year, IBM "Port-a-punch" cards were used for the first time in the field to capture data. At the end of the season, the data were transferred to paper-tape prior to storage on the University of British Columbia’s mainframe computer. By 1970, after many iterations and false starts, all field and laboratory data were entered into a structured, flat-file system. Maps showing strikes and dips, rock composition, and grain size, for example, could be plotted quickly and speedily after the field season.

Survey geologist Jim Roddick led this work and wrote many of the programs used to reduce and plot the data. The main benefit of the system was that data collection was standardized over the roughly 20-year duration of the project. This was the first large-scale, systematic use of computer data systems for geological mapping in Canada, long before the development of the modern Geographic Information System (GIS).

Category: Fieldwork

Decade: 1970s

Roddick, J.A. and Hutchison, W.W., 1972. A computer-based system for geological field data on the Coast Mountains Project, British Columbia; 24th International Geological Congress, Session 16, p. 36-46.

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