For those of us who teach it is tempting to view the proliferation of mobile devices amongst our students as something of a hindrance to effective education (e.g. texting in class and getting lost in endless on-line diversions). However, as the technology of these devices improves, we are also seeing increasing opportunities for quickly linking students with vast libraries of geoscience information, as well as new tools for engaging in authentic, inquiry based science.

This web page is dedicated to helping geoscience educators capitalize on those opportunities. Like nearly everything else on the web it is a work in continual progress. Currently it lists apps (programs designed for mobile devices) that I've found useful for teaching geoscience. The reader will undoubtedly notice that this list is biased towards iOS devices (iPhones, iPods, and iPads). This is because I own an iPad and have limited experience with Android devices. Where possible I've noted apps that are available on both platforms.

Eventually I hope to include information about how other geoscience educators have successfully used mobile devices in their classrooms. So if you are an earth or environmental science educator who uses cell phones or tablets to teach geoscience and you have an activity or app you are particularly excited about please email me at the following address.

Frank Granshaw (Earth science instructor at Portland Community College and Portland State University) frankgranshaw(at)

Note: When emailing me replace the (at) with an @ sign. I write my email address this way to reduce spam.


Useful apps


Reference/tutorial apps:

Because of their lower cost and relatively simple user interfaces, mobile devices provide students with ready access to geoscience content already in place on the web. This is increasingly being augmented by apps that include digital atlases, tutorials, reference works, and electronic textbooks produced by many textbook companies. Though much of this content works on all devices, tablets are often preferred due to their larger screen size.

  • Ancient Earth: Mobile Earth History - Thomas Moore and Chris Scotese - Ancient Earth publishes two apps (Assembling Pangea and Breakup of Pangea) that portray the earth's ancient geography (paleogeography) before and after the breakup of Pangea.
  • Earth Observer - Marine Geoscience Data System - A geoscience atlas of the entire planet brought to you by the same folks who created GeoMapApp and Virtual Ocean
  • Earth Viewer - - An interactive paleogeographic atlas of the earth for all of the geological calendar. This atlas comes with a significant data and information files for climatic, biological, and geophysical event, including recent climate changes.
  • Geologic Time Scale: Enhanced - Tasa Graphics - A quick reference, interactive geologic calendar. Tasa produces a number of reference/tutorial apps covering earthquakes, plate tectonics, and folds and faults.
  • Glossary of Geology - American Geosciences Institute - A mobile version of AGI's 5th edition of this popular reference work.
  • Just Science - Novim - Earth surface temperature maps produced by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project.
  • LLNL Flow Charts - Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories - Interactive energy production and use and water use flow charts for the United States and most of the other nations of the world.
  • Nasa Viz - NASA - Also called Visualization Explorer, NASA Viz is a compilation of movies, animations, and graphics created by NASA's Scientific Visualization Laboratory. These are arranged as "stories" that include both astronomical and terrestrial topics.

Apps for accessing, collecting, and analyzing data:

Because of their small size and rapid start-up times, mobile devices provide students and teachers with quick access to large collections of real-time and archived data. Though many data collections can be accessed using the device's web browsers, there is an increasing armada of apps that provide direct access to specific archives. These devices can also collect data locally by utilizing sensors built into the device (e.g. iSeismic uses motion sensors to turn the device into a seismometer) or by pairing with hand held data loggers (e.g. Labquest, Vernier Technology) to collect numerical data in the lab or the field. Productivity apps provide users with respectable spreadsheet tools for analyzing and these data. A considerable time-saver when collecting data in the field.

  • iSeismometer - - An app for enabling a mobile phone or tablet to act like a 3-axis seismograph. Available for both iOS and Android devices.
  • NOAA Buoy and Tide Data - Verona Solutions, LLC - A NOAA buoy data reader that retrieves weather data from NOAA's National Data Buoy Center. Also provides tide predictions for the US.
  • NOAA Weather Center - Crushed Box Software - A viewer for NOAA weather data and forecasts.
  • USGS Seismic - Epidote - A viewer for USGS earthquake data.
  • Graphical Analysis for the iPad - Vernier Software - Software for iPads that enables them to wirelessly connect to Vernier's Labquest 2 dataloggers and manipulate and share the data collected.
  • Numbers - Apple Computer - A spreadsheet program built for ipads.
  • Quick Office - Google Inc. - A productivity suite for both Android and iOS devices. Contains a word processor, spreadsheet module, and presentation creator compatable with Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.


In the geosciences documenting fieldwork is a complex interplay of writing, acquiring and recording measurements, and capturing visual data via photography, sketches, and maps. As the technology improves more of these activities are being done on mobile devices. Though there are instances of field journaling being done with mobile phones, tablets are the preferred device because of their larger screens. There are numerous apps designed for scientific fieldwork and surveying that allow users to weave text, photography, sketches, and audio into geotagged entries. Some of these have simple mark up tools, providing note-takers with the ability to annotate photographs.

  • Field Assets - LBS wireless - A note taking program specifically designed for field data collection with mobile devices. Field assets enables users to integrate text, photos, audio, and video into notebook entries which can be exported via email, twitter, iTunes, and Arc2Earth as georeferenced GIS data, Google Maps files, and other formats. Furthermore notes can be shared between devices allowing for collaborative work in the field. Field Assets is available for both iOS and Android devices.
  • FieldNotesPro - Mobile World Software - A note taking app that allows the user to create field notebooks containing written, audio, and video notes. The app also provides tools for annotating photos, as well as avenues for exporting notes as pdf documents and Google Earth place marks.
  • GeoFieldBook - Lafayette College, Department of Geology - An app specifically designed for structural geology field work. The App allows geologists to record structural and formation information, geotag notebook entries, link photos to each entry, input pre-defined formation names for different locations, and then export the field notes for integration into digital mapping and analysis applications.
  • WhiteNotes - Sliced-Pi - A highly versatile note-taking program that allows users to type or write notes into notebooks of various styles, as well as imbed and annotate photos and add audio notes. Individual notebooks can be exported as pdfs and then printed out. WhiteNotes is available for both iOS and Android devices.


As the quality of cameras in mobile devices has improved, they have increasingly replaced traditional stand-alone cameras. One of the advantages of this is that photographs can be acquired, edited, added to reports or field notes, and/or shared with others all on the same device. In some instances apps allow users to create emmersive panoramas providing them with a more comprehensive record of a site that can be imbedded into field notes or shared via Google Earth or other map-based viewers.

  • iPhoto - Apple Inc. - The mobile version of Apple's photo editing and organizational tool. Editing tools include cropping, rotating, level adjustment, color balance, and special effects.
  • 360 Panorama - Occipital - This app produces cylindrical and spherical panoramas which can either be stored on the device itself or uploaded to Occipital's panorama server where it can be accessed from a Google Map like interface.
  • Photosynth - Microsoft - Like 360 Panorama, Photosynth produces cylindrical and spherical panoramas that can be uploaded to one of Microsoft's servers. Unlike Occipital these can be easily linked to Google Earth place marks.
  • AirMicroPad - Scalar Corporation - This apps connects iPads, iPods, and iPhones to a number of wireless microscopes, essentially enabling users to take extreme close-ups and photomicrographs in the field.


When creating graphics for field notes or reports, more robust illustrations are produced using one or more of the higher end graphics apps. While capitalizing on the transportability of a mobile device, these apps provide users with the ability to annotate photos or create sketches in respectable detail.

  • Adobe Ideas - Adobe Inc. - A highly simplified version of Adobe Illustrator. Perhaps the best of the Adobe suite for mobile devices for sketching and photo annotations.
  • Photoshop Touch - Adobe Inc. - A simplified version of Photoshop. Good for both photo editing and simple sketching. Available for both iOS and Android devices.
  • iDesign - Touch Aware limited - A 2D vector drawing and design program with simple but robust sets of drawing tools. Good for doing architectural drawing, structural geology, and mapping to scale while in the field since it comes with auto scaling.

Map reading and GIS:

Many mobile devices are equipped with GPS receivers, compasses, and motion sensors. When linked with web-based map collections, a cell phone or tablet can function as a trail GPS, but with the advantage of having access to a much wider range of maps and an on-board camera for recording the scene at selected locations. One of the major issues with using a mobile device in this way getting a map app that allows you to download map coverages before you leave Wifi or cellular coverage areas. Also if you want to more than add annotated way points, you will want to invest in a GIS editing app that allows you to download and edit GIS data layers.

  • Gaia GPS - Gaia GPS - This reader works both on-line and off-line, which makes it a useful field tool if your device has a satellite GPS. In addition to having access to collections of topographic maps and aerial imagery, this app allows you to mark a position, add brief written notes, and link the marker to photographs in your device's camera files.
  • Geologic maps from Integrity Logic - This company now has interactive geologic maps for mobile devices for 22 states. Each map operates without being connected to the internet and includes geographic, hydrologic, and even climatic in addition to geologic data.
  • Tsunami Evac NW - National Association of Networked Ocean Observing Stations - A specialized map reader dedicated to showing tsunami inundation zones in Pacific Northwest and evacuation routes for major coastal communities.
  • ArcGIS - ESRI - An app for acquiring, displaying, and editing GIS data. This app also enables users to measure lines and areas, link photos and video to features, and query data.

Virtual field environments and electronic field guides:

Virtual field trips and earth viewers are well established in world of laptop and desktop computers. What is unique about these in the mobile world is that they can be easily used in the field, providing students, educators, and researchers with digital guides to where they are. Because many mobile devices are equipped with GPS receivers, compasses, and motion detectors these devices can pinpoint and display the user's position on a map, digital landscape, or panorama. With electronic field guides location services are often used to access appropriate sections of electronic field guides using GPS coordinates, allowing them to rapidly find and read about the science of the place in which they are standing.

  • Google Earth Mobile - Google Inc. - The mobile version of a what has become the standard for geospatial browsers. Though more limited than the version developed for laptop and desktop computers, GE mobile can read many of the files created by its more robust cousin.
  • Be There Yosemite - Red Hill Studios - A digital guide for visitors to Yosemite. The centerpiece of this app is a series of interactive panoramas for major tourist spots in Yosemite Valley. Notes embedded in the panoramas enable users to access additional information about selected features.
  • Explore Kilaeua - Fire Work Media - A digital guide to a Kilaeua Iki and Hahuku Lava Tube Trails of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Like BT Yosemite the guide consists of a series of interactive panoramas that contain information about native plants and geologic features, as well as navigation controls that enable the user to virtually "walk" the trails.
  • Muscate Geoheritage - Sultanate of Oman / Ministry of Tourism - Essentially a digital brochure for geotourism, this app feature hiking guides that read the devices GPS. Plus it has a rather well-done video clip featuring some rather spectacular geology. Available for both iOS and Android devices.