Smithsonian geological timeline

A measure of the quality of a science website, apart from its visual appeal, is a mixture of how much it teaches you and what you can snaffle to help teach others. As a point of departure for E-geology, it will be hard to beat the Smithsonian Institutions geotime site (www.nmnh.si.edu/paleo/geotime). That’s because it focuses first on the history, and if you care to you can discover how that was constructed from the geological record. Its central organiser is a slider that can be zoomed, which lays out the geological past – the literal time line divided into stratigraphic Eons, Eras, Periods and Epochs. Each division is clickable, although zooming in several times is needed to see the Cenozoic Epochs. But, hang on, there is no Ediacaran Period, the newest addition, nor the subdivision of the Proterozoic on the timeline. Whatever, clicking on a division opens a thumbnail sketch of each and links to pages that give more detail on the highlights, plus introductions to the founding concepts behind geological time and unravelling Earth and life processes. There is a glossary, which shows the influence of Encarta and Wikipedia. Here is a chance to learn for hours in a most convenient and engaging way, but graphics are few and far between in the various main panes. There are examples of important fossil organisms, but displayed at a size that lacks satisfying detail. What the site needs are maps and explanatory diagrams, which are available elesewhere. So the Smithsonian needs, I think, to liase a bit with other learning resources in the geosciences. It would be good to have a one-stop shop.

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