Smartphones have incorporated many sensors and some of them can be helpful for a geologist in the field:

  • They have GPS, so it is possible to register your route in a Google Maps map. I find this may be interesting in combination with image, video, audio or text registration.
  • They have an orientation sensor, so it is possible to create a compass with a few lines of code. The doubt is whether someone is going to trust this kind of device instead of an expensive mechanical compass.
  • Some devices measure color. I doubt this can be very useful (color "x4832789bjkfbjk" or whatever is the output).
  • ?

I am curious to maybe develop one in the future, or encourage a reader to program one.


How can the device help geologists in the field?

  • $\begingroup$ What are you curious about to develop in the future? $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Oct 18 at 7:37
  • $\begingroup$ @Erik I am thinking in using gps to generate a map where you add notes or pictures of the outcrops at some points. An itinerary. You can upload the map with connection and the gps works with no internet. $\endgroup$ Oct 18 at 9:10
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    $\begingroup$ Have look at QField. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Oct 18 at 9:12

I know a young geologist using his smartphone as a compass. When we were in the field doing structural measurements together, I would:

  • Record a waypoint using my hiking GPS
  • Take the measurement with my compass
  • Write it all down in my field notebook

Given the time to take all the things out, and put them away afterwards, it was at least 2$-$3 minutes per measurement. And of course, I would have to wait until the evening to put all the data from my notebook into my computer by hand (which is source of error), and finally be able to plot it on a stereographic projection.

He could do all of the above in 5 seconds with his smartphone, and visualize the results in real-time.

I think he was following the article "Structural data collection with mobile devices: Accuracy, redundancy, and best practices" (Allmendinger et al., 2017). The study found that:

With some modest precautions, Apple® iPhones can be successfully used by structural geologists as data collection devices in the field.

But still warned:

As of today, the structural geologist will still want to take their analog compass to the field with them and verify their phone observations. Anyone contemplating data collection with any smart phone needs to carry out extensive tests of the kind performed here to verify that the data collected are reliable.

Another use I know of is photogrammetry (e.g., Corradetti et al., 2021), but I am less familiar with this topic.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ No way I'd trust a smartphone over a brunton. I can't even get reproducibility of simple slope angles to within +/-10 degrees, never mind compass heading. That being said, they are invaluable for photos and notes as well as carrying map layers, journal articles, and sample tracking with QR codes. $\endgroup$ Oct 19 at 18:18

Part of the answer lies in where the geologist will be working and if there will be coverage by cellular/mobile telephone networks.

It is my experience that a number of geologists, particularly exploration geologists, may work in remote regions where there is are no cellular/mobile telephone networks - parts of Africa, central Asia, Australia, South America, Canada & Siberia. In such regions smartphones are of no use.

Any emergency communication that may be required is either done via a satellite telephone or via radio, similar to citizens band radio, but better. Sometimes the geologist must drive to the nearest town that has a telephone or cellular/mobile telephone coverage.

As for compasses, I know many geologists who would feel naked without their Brunton Compasses. Their tool kit would be incomplete without one.

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    $\begingroup$ The GPS works without internet. You could simply upload the map at home and work without connection at the field. $\endgroup$ Oct 17 at 16:25

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