Thirty Years

Our present methods of entering field notes into the computer are text-based, and while they're quicker than any other methods we know of for such recording, they still leave us in the position that our brother Paul was in in the 1970s: he lived his life in 48 hour segments - one day to experience something, and the next to record it in his journal. We record locations as GPS waypoints, download them into database records, and then transcribe data about identification and circumstances from written notes into the waypoint records.

Digital photography and increased memory capacity in computers have completely changed the mode of conventional natural history documentation. Our database is set up to accommodate images, but we haven't largely depended on them, or had the time to routinely load them into the files.

For the 2010 trip, we're going to have to mechanise everything that it's possible to mechanise, so that we don't spend any time doing things that can be done more accurately by appropriately programmed electronic equipment.

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad - Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

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Aspects of the 30-years-later project:

historic field work
journal formats
this month 30 years ago

planned route for 2010
teaching revisit methods

planned events
suggest a revisit
sponsors of the 30 Years project

30 Years Later home page

Pinicola home

About us

Bishops Mills
Natural History

Thirty Years Later: Methods and Equipment for naturalists' field notes from coast to coast to coast.

Frederick W. Schueler & Aleta Karstad - Bishops Mills Natural History Centre

For the 2010 trip we'll need cutting-edge technology – automatic GPS locating to flip the location and time into a record that can be keyed in on the site, automatic thermometers reporting to the computers, automatic composition of location names, realtime mapping of previous records, satellite www, etc., etc. Maybe the new field note system will generate database records from geo-referenced, time-stamped digital photos associated with voice-recognized recordings of speech.

We'll also need to work fast to get specimen and field notes databased before attempting revisits, and we should probably make preliminary 30-yr-later visits around Ontario in the summer of 2009 as practice, and spend the winter doing data entry - probably capturing hand-written field notes with voice recognition software - and arranging revisits with local individuals and institutions.

We probably can't imagine how communications will be handled to make this an appropriately high-profile excursion, but we'll have to upload accounts of each day to a blog, perhaps with a webcam mounted on the vehicle which shows where we're going in real time, or little videos made about each day's activities.

The challenge is to use methods that are as advanced, precise, and quick as possible, without depending on them. We've got to always be able to fall back onto Grinnell's standard of records written in india ink on non-acid paper, always being sure to produce both electronically-transmissible records for contemporary use, and archival-quality records on paper, which will last 'as long as anything does.'

fws - 20 July 2009