Geological database sees future in Oracle

Larry Ellison would be gratified to hear that a massive New Zealand geological database project is betting on the longevity of Oracle.

Larry Ellison would be gratified to hear that a massive New Zealand geological database project is betting on the longevity of Oracle.

The Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (IGNS) expects to spend a further six years building a comprehensive database of geological information. It will include not only direct maps of the geological make-up of the entire country – rock types, earthquake fault locations, landslides and mines, among other information – but also reputable academic and commercial commentary on the geology of particular areas, are being stored in the developing database.

The first ideas for the database arose in 1994, with practical work starting in 1996. “We’ve got about 50% of the country into the machine now,” says project team leader Mike Isaac, so the “compilation stage” of the project might be complete by about 2006.

After that comes a “publication stage,” where the project is written up for scientific peer review.

Asked whether the technology of database management and access might not have changed hugely in another six years, Isaac says, “we think if we run with Oracle and Oracle-compatible software, the data will still be accessible then.” Obviously changes will need to be made from time to time, he says, and the institute will keep the technology upgraded, if only so it remains accessible for its own use.

Many clients are already accessing the database as it stands, however – from mineral and oil companies to academic supervisors looking for an unexplored geological topic for a student’s thesis.

Government policy for crown research institutes (of which IGNS is one) stipulates that they should make data available at the cost of its collection; “but we’re also expected to make a profit,” says Isaac.

So at the same time as opening the basic data for free access, IGNS cross-correlates various datasets on demand to provide additional information for the specific requirements of clients, charging a commercial fee.

IGNS is making a deliberate attempt to make the basic data as widely available as possible by “dumbing down” the software needed for access, says Isaac. It works with the ArcInfo suite of products, but has formulated the data so it is accessible through the reasonably-priced ArcView and ArcExplorer rather than the more expensive ArcInfo itself.

The reason the database is taking so long to complete has nothing to do with the technology; it is simply that the information has not been collected. “Not a lot is known, for example, about the geology of Fiordland, because not many people go there.” So among the tactics of the project is an effort to find researchers, here or overseas with an “intellectual interest” in such unexplored regions, to collect data that the IGNS database can use.

Once a reorganisation of the cadastral – land ownership – data over the country onto a new geographical grid is completed, it will be possible to match such data accurately with the geological database, so a property buyer or insurer will know about the underlying geology of the property. They may then decide not to buy, or to charge a higher premium, because of the presence of an earthquake fault or an old mine.

The cadastral conversion is part of Land Information NZ’s Landonline project, and is being done by EDS. It is progressing though the country in synchronisation with the rest of Landonline, says a Linz spokesman, and should be complete by the second half of 2002.

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