Whaleback anticline
University of Washington
The former Bear Valley Strip Mine in Pennsylvania is the site of the “Whaleback anticline,” named because the 30-foot-tall hump of bedrock looks like a whale. Decades of coal mining exposed folds in the bedrock that offer clues to the landscape’s history. The Virtual Field Geology project uses drone photography to create virtual field visits on a web browser or virtual reality headset.

University of Washington geologists had set out to create computer-based field experiences long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Juliet Crider, a UW associate professor of Earth and space sciences, first got a grant from the National Science Foundation to send a former graduate student and a drone to photograph an iconic Pennsylvania geological site and pilot a new approach to field geology.

Her team has now completed a virtual field visit to that site, the Whaleback anticline, where decades of coal mining have exposed 300-million-year-old folds in the bedrock. A pilot version of the web-based tool was used during the pandemic, and a version that allows people to wear virtual reality headsets to explore the geological site just launched. A UW field class used both tools in an undergraduate summer course that for the first time blended virtual and in-person field trips.

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