October 8, 2014

EarthCaching – and where geoscientists can help

Posted by Laura Guertin

You may be familiar with the outdoor sport called “geocaching,” defined by Geocaching.com as “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”  There are several different types of caches available, and it is not uncommon for geoscientists to specifically search for the ones classified as EarthCaches.  Check out the video below for an overview of this type of virtual cache that has an educational purpose and mission to teach about the Earth:

EarthCaching began ten years ago and is a partnership between Geocaching.com and the Geological Society of America’s Education and Outreach Department.  Several national parks, public lands, and informal science education centers have created EarthCaches to encourage visitation, education, and time outdoors.  Examples of EarthCaching programs and collections include:

This weekend, GSA is hosting the 3rd Annual International EarthCache event, with International EarthCache Day taking place on Sunday, October 12 (International EarthCache Day is always the first Sunday of Earth Science Week).  Geocaching.com will be giving out a special souvenir (think digital badge) to geocachers that find and log an EarthCache on Sunday. [And it is probably time for full disclose… I’ve been geocaching since 2007 under the name NationalParkFan, with my first cache being the Denver Stones EarthCache found during the Denver EarthCache tour field trip at GSA 2007 in Denver.]



EarthCaching seems to be a win-win situation for all involved.  The activity gets people outdoors and focusing on the physical environment around them.  And I really appreciate that there is no container to search for with a log to sign or items to swap.  The “virtual” part of this cache is a bonus to outdoor safety and limits damage to the environment (see Reams & West, 2008).

However, with all of the success and celebrations for EarthCaching, I have one plea for my fellow geologists – be involved in creating EarthCaches.  EarthCaches can be developed by any individual that follow the guidelines (accessible here and here), and the descriptions are reviewed before they are published.  With 2,506,875 active geocaches and over 6 million geocachers worldwide (from Geocaching.com on 10/05/2014), there is a huge audience that could be learning more about geology if more EarthCaches were available.  And with more geologists developing EarthCaches, the content and quality could really improve.  For example, you can see a range in the EarthCache descriptions among Tsunami Clock to I.M. Me! to Sea to Sky Geomorphology Field Trip Project. If you live near a national park, please see Tips on Developing EarthCaches in U.S. National Parks for ideas on how you can connect and collaborate with parks to add to the educational experience of visitors.  Or perhaps think outside the box, and create some other type of cache for your department/college museum or library (see reference for Musser, 2005, below for innovative ideas).  Even if you don’t create an official EarthCache for the Geocaching website, it can be a fun scavenger hunt activity for your students on campus (and a great way to train them to use handheld GPS units).

Learn about Geocaching's souvenier for International EarthCache Day 2014 at: http://blog.geocaching.com/2014/09/your-next-souvenir-reveals-mysteries-of-the-earth/

Learn about Geocaching’s souvenir for International EarthCache Day 2014 at: http://blog.geocaching.com/2014/09/your-next-souvenir-reveals-mysteries-of-the-earth/

Additional sources for exploration

American Geosciences Institute (AGI) – Earth Science Week EarthCaching activities: http://www.earthsciweek.org/classroom-activities/earthcaching

Gochis, E.E., W.I. Rose, E.C. Vye, K. Hungwe, S.R. Mattox, & H. Petcovic. (2013).  Increasing awareness of geoheritage sites & Earth science literacy through teacher-developed EarthCaches. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 45(7): 793.  (Abstract available online)

Lewis, G.B., & C. McLelland. (2007). EarthCaching – An Educator’s Guide. United States: Geological Society of America. 87 pages. (PDF online)

Locke, S., G. Bracey, G. Lewis (2014). Who EarthCaches and why: results of an exploratory survey. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 46(6): 243. (Abstract available online)

Musser, L. (2005). Geocaching for librarians. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 37(7): 45. (Abstract available online, see also ScienceDaily article) *Visit the Penn State Earth & Mineral Science Library multi-cache, GCQXJR – By George