To Make a Virtual Fieldtrip, Start with a Real One

Posted on Dec 5, 2013

Roger Summons explains the role of microbial activity in the formation of oolitic sand


In June 2013, Roger Summons and postdoc Ben Kotrc, with colleague Tanja Bosak, embarked on a field excursion to several sites in Western Australia as part of an Education and Public Outreach project under the auspices of the NASA Astrobiology Institute headquartered in the Summons lab and carried out in partnership with our NAI colleagues at ASU. The aim of the trip was to gather material for developing a Virtual Fieldtrip to several sites of tremendous importance to understanding early life—including Shark Bay, home to the best-known living stromatolites, Karijini National Park, with spectacular exposures of Banded Iron Formation linked to the oxygenation of the atmosphere, and North Pole dome, home to some of the oldest evidence of life.


Tagging along with the Astrobiology Grand Tour organized by Malcolm Walter of the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at UNSW, and teaming up with our VFT-making colleagues Ariel Anbar, Geoffrey Bruce, Lev Horodyskyj, and Jessica Swann from ASU, we returned with 13 location-based sphericals for that “Google street view” pan-around-360˚ experience, 4 gigapans, 277 video clips and well over 2000 images.

As an exciting first this year (the Summons lab has been working on the development of these VFTs for several years), Geoffrey Bruce brought a video-camera-equipped quad copter (think: drone), capturing a dramatic new perspective—from high up in the sky—at sites like the stromatolites in Shark Bay and fly-throughs of Dales Gorge at Karijini National Park.