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First geomorphological map of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country.

Contributed by: Elhuyar Foundation

A cartography team at the University of the Basque Country proposes creation of first geomorphological map of the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country. Thematic Cartography and Geographic Information Systems team is one of the users of the recently inaugurated Lucio Lascaray building at the new research centre on the Araba campus of the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU).
It draws up all kinds of maps, from geological ones to those of vegetation and even archaeological maps, the firm commitment being to serve the scientific and university community above all. A service that is more than justified, given that, as explained by Luis Eguiluz, geologist leading the team, “people who normally do spatial work are not familiar with maps”.

But, besides customised services, this research team is also involved in far reaching projects on its own initiative. In fact, Mr Eguiluz is on the point of culminating a project on which he has been working for 35 years: the geological map of Extremadura. Moreover, he already has his sights set on the next work: "There is no information of quality on surface formations, regoliths and soils in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (CAV). As a consequence, one of the aspects on which we want to focus is to remedy these deficiencies and take on board studies related to these topics”. This aspect would include creating the first geomorphological map of the CAV.

<b>First steps in Valdegovía</b>

The team has already begun to lay the foundations of the project. One of its members, Josu Junguitu, is writing his PhD thesis on the geomorphological characteristics of Valdegovía, taking advantage of the extraordinary opportunity provided by the fact that, at the moment, some 70 kilometres of trenches have been opened in and around this town in the Basque province of Araba, as a result of work on irrigation canals. “We are going to devote ourselves to analysing all the material from the bedrock to the surface. We want to see what it is like, what distribution it has, thicknesses, and so on”, stated Mr Eguiluz.

The first phase in all this is photo interpretation —the study of relief using aerial photographs—, enabling deducing types of terrain, their geological age and importance, and so on. To carry this out, the team had images taken using LIDAR technology provided by the Basque Government. According to Mr Eguiluz, LIDAR involves “a plane that carries a special laser which emits a cloud of rays towards the terrain and, for each point of terrestrial incidence, up to five rebounds are received”. Thus a map made up of very dense points is obtained — up to three points per square metre, thus enabling drawing up perfect digital models of the terrain: “It shows up any break, any change. Changes in height are particularly shown up. These images enable you to eliminate vegetation and extrapolate the surface shapes and contours”.

After this, field work is carried out, analysing in situ each type of terrain. To this end, the above mentioned 70 kilometres of trenches are highly useful. “What the geologist does is to go there, take samples and look for fossils; these enable you to know the age of the terrain. This is geology”, states Mr Eguiluz. This then becomes geomorphology, on investigating and finding out about how the surface has been filled with other materials, how other surface layers have been deposited above the previous one … “In this way, history is reconstructed”.

<b>Maps within the reach of all</b>

The maps generated as a result of this project will be incorporated into the Spatial Data Infrastructure (IDE) of the UPV/EHU which, in turn, forms part of the Spanish Spatial Data Infrastructure (IDEE). This is a freely accessible web page belonging to the Ministry of Development, aimed at bringing together the different types of maps undertaken Autonomous Community by Autonomous Community. This idea follows the guidelines laid down by the European Community INSPIRE directive, aimed at all EU countries using standard mapping practices and on the same scales, so that there is continuity and coherence in EU cartographic information.

As Mr Eguiluz explained, one of the main advantages of the harmonising of maps within the IDEE is the socialisation of cartography, “to take this information to the public at large and, fundamentally in my view, for researchers in cartography and map-making to have a platform where they can disseminate, share and consult all kinds of cartographic information appropriately”.

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