Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On the shoulders of giants

I worked as a research assistant for about six weeks before I moved to Syracuse to start my PhD.  I  worked on a couple of projects, both of which really reinforced that as scientists, our work really is on the shoulders of giants. For those of you who haven't heard this phrase before, it means that our research builds on what has been done by others before us.

One of my projects involved going through old air photos and field books (from the 70s) and comparing what was noted there with the database of existing samples (that information has been transferred into ArcGIS where I'm using it in conjunction with landsat)--figuring out what we have so it can be used to plan future field expeditions to the same regions and so that samples can be pulled for further analysis.

While everyone knows that their field notes need to make sense to themselves days, weeks, or months after returning from the field, we don't always realize that our field notes may be used by someone else forty years later.

I've compiled a list of tips and tricks for making your field notes useful to someone other than yourself, based on what I saw at work:
  • Plain (lined or unlined) paper is easier to read than pre-printed templates that look like forms.
  • Put locations (i.e. lat/long or utm) in the field books for every station you stop at, even if you don't collect a sample there. If someone else in your field party is collecting notes at that location, make a note of it in your field book.
  • If you're marking up air photos or maps and using the same ones for more than one field season/party, colour code them (and include a legend and/or labels). 
  • Be consistent in how you record/label things, and include a key or legend. Review these methods before going into the field each time. Everything recorded in the same field book should use consistent methodologies. These same methods should transfer to maps, air photos etc.
  • Don't repeat sample numbers in the same area. There's nothing worse than coming across an air photo with two station 22's marked on it (they were from two different years, but the years weren't marked on the air photo).
  • Speaking of sample and station numbers, use leading zeros (i.e. 001, 002, 010). It makes it much easier to sort the information once it is transferred to a spreadsheet or database
For some examples of real field notes, check out Accretionary Wedge #47

1 comment:

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