Writer's Guide to Government Information

Resources to inject real life detail into your fiction

Archive for the tag “geology”

What did Tokyo look like after its 1923 earthquake?

Throughout the Writer’s Guide to Government Information, I list “representative questions” that can be answered by a given resource. I thought it might be interesting from time to time to show you how I’d answer one of these questions with its given resource.

In the entry for the US Geological Survey Photographic Library, I assert it can answer the question “What did Tokyo look like after its 1923 earthquake?” Here’s how you’d find out:

In the left hand column, click on “Earthquakes.” On the page that follows, click on “Tokyo Earthquake 1923.” This yields six photos, including:

Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan, Earthquake September 1, 1923. “I enclose also a photo of the ruins of the Grand Hotel at Yokohama where I stopped last year.” J.H. Messervey, letter dated March 5, 1924. USGS Photographic Library

Each photograph in the result set has multiple resolution options:

  • 100 dots per inch (dpi) thumbnail-resolution GIF file
  • 700 dpi medium-resolution JPG file
  • 1400 dpi high-resolution JPG file
  • 1600+ dpi full-resolution JPG file

The entry for the US Geological Survey Photographic Library is just one resource from the Physical Settings chapter of the Writer’s Guide to Government Information.


U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library

U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library – https://library.usgs.gov/photo/#/

Representative Questions This Resource Can Answer:

  • What did Mount Saint Helens look like in 1964 and in 1984?
  • What does the landscape look like in Joshua Tree National Park?
  • What did Tokyo look like after its 1923 earthquake?


This photo library contains 30,000 photographs from 1868 to the present. The library can be searched by keyword or by browsing the following topics:

  • Earthquakes
  • Mines, Mills, Quarries
  • Mount St. Helens
  • National Parks
  • Photographers
  • Pioneer Photographers
  • Portrait Collection

Each topic brings up subtopics. The earthquake section is divided up by names of large quakes, such as San Fernando in 1971 or Yemen 1982. The Portraits collection might be useful for seeing clothing styles for the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Aside from being a source to add realistic settings to your stories, this library can be used to illustrate your book, story or website. As stated by the terms of service at https://library.usgs.gov/photo/#/about, all of photos in the USGS library are public domain and be used without permission or credit. USGS would appreciate a credit to the photo library.

National Atlas Geology

UPDATE 10/5/2014 – The National Atlas ceased to be updated as of 9/30/2014. A copy from 9/24/2014 lives on in the Internet Archive. 

National Atlas Geology – https://wayback.archive-it.org/4416/20140919123233/http://nationalatlas.gov/geology.html

Representative Questions This Resource Can Answer:

  • Is there more than one continental divide?
  • Outside of Appalachia, where are America’s coal fields?
  • Where are potentially active volcanoes in California?


The Geology section of the larger National Atlas is a mix of overview articles and of Map Maker samples. Click on on any of the samples in the upper right hand of your screen and then check out the map layers tab. My favorite layer is the “Impact Structures” map which shows the parts of the United States that appear to have been hit from outer space. Another fun layer is the Earthquakes 1568 – 2009 layer. It clearly shows that neither North Dakota nor Iowa has had an earthquake since 1568. If your story takes place there, you might need secret nuclear testing or Godzilla to justify an earthquake.

Other map layers of note include:

  • Coal Fields
  • Continental Divide
  • Earthquakes 1568 – 2009
  • Calderas
  • Generalized Glacial Limits
  • Metamorphic Areas
  • Karst – Engineering Aspects
  • Subsidence
  • Landslides – Costly Events
  • Landslides – Costly Regional Events
  • Landslide Incidence and Susceptibility

There are also maps of magnetic fields available, but I’m honestly not sure how to interpret them or how you might work them into a story.

In the overview articles, pay attention to Continental Divides in North Dakota and North America. This article notes that the “Great Divide” of the Rocky Mountains is only one of several continental divides. One of the continental divides is on very flat ground in North Dakota. For the explanation, see the article.

Search/Use Tip:

Sometimes you can successfully mix layers on Map Maker. Try viewing Landslide incidence and susceptibility, then coal fields and then put them together. Notice how the Appalachian coal fields overlap almost exactly with one of the highest risks of landslides in the country? That sounds like a hard life.

Geoscience Digital Image Library

Geoscience Digital Image Library – http://www.geodil.com/index.asp

Representative Questions This Resource Can Answer:

  • What do dinosaur tracks look like?
  • What does a geologic fault look like from the air?
  • What might a geologist see on a road geology field trip?


This resource is from the University of North Dakota. The site may searched by keyword if you know what you are looking for. Use the browse function if you’re not sure or are looking for ideas.

If you have geological or mineral photos yourself, consider offering them to the Geoscience Digital Image Library. Learn more at their about page.

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