Geomojis translates geoscience into any language


The newly created pictograms aim to easily communicate geoscientific and geo-hazardous terms.

By Megan Sever

Emojis are pictograms used to convey specific messages. They have the same basic meaning in any language: a smile means a smile.

What if geoscience fields could create their own pictograms that anyone, anywhere could understand, such as a tsunami evacuation zone or a rockfall warning? This is what the volcanologist Benjamin van Wyk de Vries and his team aims to do. “We want to communicate earth sciences in a way that is easily understood by everyone,” said van Wyk de Vries.

Enter geomojis.

Geomojis are “a global symbology for communicating geosciences …[and they] bridging the gap between simple symbols and words, crossing linguistic boundaries, ”noted van Wyk de Vries and his colleagues, including the linguist Claire Shires and several other linguistic experts from Clermont Auvergne University in France, during a presentation to the European Union of Geosciences (EGU) General Assembly 2021.

Layman’s glossary

Geomojis are the original idea of ​​van Wyk de Vries, who began to draw them based on a comprehensive framework of geoscientific terms to describe the Earth and its processes, like a glossary of secular geology.

Van Wyk de Vries teamed up with linguists to ensure that its wording and pictograms were useful in communicating the hazards and geological processes to the public. To date, the team has developed a glossary of 50 different geoscientific terms, mostly related to hazards: from earthquake to lahar, tsunami to flash flood.

Some terms are easier to explain than others, but all must have a human connection, said van Wyk de Vries. Think about the drought.

In trying to explain drought to Shires – who has no background in geoscience and is therefore a good guinea pig, she said – the team realized that the definition of drought needed connotations. human; it is not just a natural term. “The definition we had from the glossary was pretty dry, if you will excuse the pun. We left out the most important thing: the human connection, ”said van Wyk de Vries. So when he draws geomojis now, he draws a little person or a house with danger – something that conveys the human aspect.

The pictograms show different terms for mass movement, including rockfall, landslides, and debris flows.
This whole geomojis project shows different terms for mass movement and how they relate to people. Credit: Benjamin van Wyk de Vries

Illustration and language

Geomoji volcano cone

Drawing pictograms that effectively communicate an earthly danger or process is half the battle. For example, van Wyk de Vries drew a cinder-cone-shaped volcano “that I thought was so obvious,” he says.

Shires, however, looked at the pictogram and saw only the hole, the caldera. This illustrated how important it is to test these geomojis on different people, said van Wyk de Vries.

The other half of the battle is the language. There is a cultural aspect, as many cultures have words to describe processes that do not translate into other languages ​​(such as jökulhlaup in Icelandic, a type of glacial flooding induced by volcanoes). And there’s a geoscience aspect: Geoscientists don’t define or draw terms in exactly the same way. Van Wyk de Vries said he showed some initial pictograms to a group of lithosphere specialists at a previous EGU meeting and “was immediately criticized for the way I had drawn convection in the coat – it wasn’t fair, it wasn’t fair. ” But the comments were useful and necessary, he said. Some scientists then returned to van Wyk de Vries and offered their own drawings to help the project.

This is how van Wyk de Vries and Shires see the project growing: like Wikipedia, a participatory enterprise in which people from all over the world contribute definitions and pictograms, and adapt and modify them also according to the context and the needs. local. There would have to be some oversight to ensure accuracy. But a global glossary with hundreds of geomojis could be of use to everyone from government officials to tourists to elementary school students as long as they are connected and tell a tale of Earth that everyone can understand. said van Wyk de Vries.

The geomoji glossary can even include animations and mind maps to describe various processes that are all part of a single term, such as volcano, with other geomojis explaining explosive eruptions versus effusive eruptions.

The pictograms show different terms used to describe volcanic processes, including cone, eruption plume, and pyroclastic flow.
This pictogram set project shows different terms used to describe volcanic processes. Credit: Benjamin van Wyk de Vries

This is just the start, said van Wyk de Vries and Shires.

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