Computers & Geosciences, Volume 26, Number 5, 2000

Another Node On the interNet

Brian S. Penn
Pan-American Center for Earth & Environmental Studies
Dept. of Geological Sciences
University of Texas at El Paso
El Paso, TX 79968 John Butler
University of Houston
Houston, Texas 77204

From The Associate Editor

I have been interested in virtual field trips since I began poking around the world wide web. Brian Penn is extending the original versions which were really nothing more than a digital album to really begin to take advantage of the power of the medium. Take a look. I would imagine that many of you have something that could be treated in a similar fashion.

The Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks Web Page

My vision ten years ago was to produce a hypertext document permitting anyone to vicariously visit the Spanish Peaks area of south-central Colorado. Although several publications are available on the Spanish Peaks most are not adequate or accurate regarding the geochemical, temporal or spatial relationships of the igneous bodies in the Spanish Peaks. The beauty of the Spanish Peaks is the magnificent exposures of the radial dike systems, sill, plugs, and stocks. The systems of exposed radial dikes are world-renowned and often cited in introductory geologic texts. The problem with these textbooks is that they only give a shallow view of the Spanish Peaks presenting either a map, a picture of a dike, or both. Such a quick presentation fails to convey the magnitude and beauty of the exposed intrusive bodies present in the area.

The purpose of the Spanish Peaks web page is simple: geology is meant to be experienced, not read about. While this web page isn't exactly like being there, it's closer than most any other way you will encounter. It was during my undergraduate field camp that geologic concepts derived from textbooks were made tangible. At field camp one can touch the rocks and see their field relationships. That is the primary reason for building the web page: to get the user as close as possible to a "real" field experience. It is an attempt to capture the "feel" of the Spanish Peaks more than words and a picture or two make possible. For example: a visitor can "virtually" stand at the summit of West Spanish Peak and peer down through the clouds and see the radial dikes below spread out like spokes on a wheel. And with a few clicks of the mouse, the user can turn the perspective 180 degrees and peer up at West Spanish Peak from one of the radial dikes.

The Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks' web page is designed for many different audiences. It is constructed around the notion of scale, ranging from satellite imagery to photomicrographs of thin-sections. The user can easily switch between images of either, or delve into 40Ar/39Ar age data and geochemical data. It is organized so both the experienced geochemist and the amateur geologist can glean something of use.

Structure of the Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks Web Page

The elements of the web page are built using the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), Javascript, and an Oracle database. The idea of hypertext has been around since the 1940s. Aside from the advances in computer speed and storage, the real breakthrough for hypertext was the explosive growth of the internet. Now, not only can a hypertext document be generated, it can be instantaneously distributed throughout the internet. Prior to this event the true information age had not arrived. We now have at our disposal the ability to send out volumes of information heretofore unavailable to the average person.

The first page of the Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks is controlled by a Javascript which selects one of several different views of the Spanish Peaks to show when the web page is opened. The main page has several options including:

Liberal use is made of image maps. Image maps are hyperlinks on an image that retrieve other web pages or images. For instance, in the pages dedicated to sample locations a user may click on an individual sample location and connect to a webpage for each sample. On the web page for each sample all available information is presented including rock name, geochemistry, thin-section description, 40Ar/39Ar age spectra, and a photomicrograph of thin-section (where available).

All of the geochemical data for the samples I collected and had analyzed are stored in an Oracle database. The interface to the Oracle database is through the sample information web pages. Using Oracle's Webserver software, web pages for each sample's geochemistry is dynamically built based on a query to the Oracle database. In this manner, additional data can be added to the Oracle database without the end-user's knowledge.

The Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks web page can be accessed via the following URL:

Use and Feedback

The web page has been accessed nearly 650 times since January 27, 1999. Only recently has the URL been added to any search engines ( Statistics indicate that most of the accesses have been by one-time visitors. I have received numerous, positive emails from visitors to the web page. Most of the emails are from non-technical people with an interest in the Spanish Peaks. Several came from students doing reports for undergraduate classes in geology.


At this writing, only the data for the Spanish Peaks is stored on the web page. No interpretive information is available, such as, a detailed petrogenetic model. This is deliberately done to avoid possible problems concerning copyright infringement in forthcoming technical publications. The burgeoning of the internet and its concomitant effect on technical publications demands a new paradigm regarding the publication of current technical information. Efforts are underway by professional societies like the Geological Society of America and the American Geophysical Union to develop efficient methods to utilize the internet as a conduit for information distribution.

The Igneous Petrology of the Spanish Peaks web page is a prototype for future project and thesis publication. Each completed thesis or dissertation should have a web page of some sort; even if it's only an abstract. In this manner new results can be made available to both peers and the general public in a timely manner. Therein lies the power of the internet. There may come a time when bound theses are obsolete and a student publishes their work via the internet or by turning in a CD-ROM-type disc that is subsequently up-loaded to the internet.