Emergency rescue, digitization and dissemination of the Peter Fischer Marine Geophysical Data Collection​

Dr. Richard Behl and Dr. Robert D. Francis, CSU Long Beach

October 8, 2019

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 Dr. Peter Fischer, CSUN Geology Professor. 

Dr. Peter J. Fischer was a professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at California State University Northridge for over 30 years, ​​​retiring in 2003. During his life, Prof. Fischer conducted scores of marine geologic studies and surveys, often in association with construction projects on harbors, pipelines, oil platforms, power plants, etc. Although extending up to Alaska, his work concentrated on shipboard geophysical investigations along the southern California coast. He continued geological work with his colleagues until passing away in 2012. During his long career, he amassed an extensive collection of California coastal marine geologic data and interpretations.

The collection, consisting of thousands of physical paper ​and vellum rolls of marine seismic data charts, large-format maps, reports and subsurface profiles, was to be discarded after Dr. Fischer's death with the impending sale of his home and office. These materials are invaluable because current regulations make it very difficult to acquire data in shallow, nearshore waters today. It is highly unlikely that similar surveys could even be conducted at present, or at least not without exorbitant time and expense. COAST Rapid Response funding allowed us to save the collection and make it available for use by future generations of coastal research scientists. Our intent was to 1) secure the collection,  2) evaluate the condition, type and value of the​ data, 3) repair the materials as necessary in order to digitally scan them and 4) georefe​rence the data for archival storage in a map and coordinate-based internet database such as the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information Marine Geology and Geophysics database​.  ​

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Geology students Carl Jung, Amanda Seckington and Jake Daye ​prepare large maps for ​digital scanning. ​

Student repairing the maps 

Geology student​​;Lorenzo Cebreros repairs a map of seafloor sediment types offshore of Carpinteria, California.​​

In the course of this grant, six undergraduate students majoring in Geology and Earth Science were hired to learn about and work with the collection. These students evaluated, repaired, digitally scanned, and documented metadata on the recovered marine seismic data charts, large-format maps, reports, and subsurface profiles. We were delighted to discover that the breadth of data was greater than we expected: in addition to marine geophysical data, there were also many unpublished maps of sea-floor benthic substrate and habitats, historical changes in kelp cover, biostratigraphy (micropaleontology and age dating) of seafloor sedimentary rock ​outcrops and documentation of shifting sand cover over time. These data are concentrated in the Santa Barbara, Point Conc​eption and Santa Maria coastal zones, but there were​ also a significant number of documents from the Long Beach-Los Angeles area as well. ​ In the course ​​on this project, more than 4,000 large chart rolls were evaluated for preservation. Many of these were water-damaged or duplicates of other documents and were therefore rejected. Others were constructed by an old-fashioned method in which contour lines, data points, and patterned fields were applied to mylar or ​​vellum to make maps. Some of these were falling apart and had to be painstakingly reconstructed before scanning, much like an archaeologist or art historian restores a degraded artefact or painting. ​

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Close-up of maps constructed of stick-on lines and 

patterns on mylar.​

In all, almost 1,500 mostly large-format documents – up to 6' wide and 4' high – were scanned and cataloged.  The data will be made available to the scientific community at large, first on the CSULB Geology web server and then, after georeferencing, through the NOAA database.​

Dr. Richard Behl and Dr. Robert D.​ Francis​ are both Professors of Geology at CSU Long Beach. ​COAST provided funding for this project: Rapid Response Funding Program Award# COAST-RR-2017-02, July 2017.