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Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life

Ways of Knowing: Field Science in the 21st Century


Event Recap

Noah Snyder, Assistant Professor of Geology, spoke about technology and field observation in his geologic work on rivers on February 4. Snyder noted that paths to knowledge across disciplines have similarities, incorporating different perspectives and approaches to knowledge.

Snyder talked about the ways in which geologists approach their field research. Using advanced technology, there is a temptation to simply work off of aerial photography images, topographic maps and digital elevation models. Snyder noted how helpful technology can be, but emphasized how important field work remains. By observing a given area, a geologist can contextualize the rest of the data, making field work imperative. In an example of the relationship between technology and fieldwork from his own research, Snyder recounted his experience while doing his PhD near the San Andreas Fault in California. After months of work, he expected a certain result from the data he collected, and when he did not get that result, he was only able to account for the variables because of the work they had done on site. Intimate familiarity with the physical traits of the ground explained the surprising outcome. Digital technology enhances the possibilities of fieldwork, but the two should be pursued in tandem.

The kind of work Snyder conducts has wide applications, and he cited the work done in New Orleans on the levees to avoid catastrophe again. Snyder himself is currently working in Maine to help protect endangered species. By recognizing different “ways of knowing,” one can connect disparate threads to arrive at constructive and revealing conclusions, as Snyder’s work proves.