A Minecraft View of the Minnesota River

Posted on April 9th, 2020 by

Public schools in the United States usually only make students aware of geology and don’t teach students the real-world impacts of understanding geology. Developing an understanding of geology is made more difficult by the large amounts of time involved in geologic processes. To address these gaps in understanding, Sawyer Johnson (Geology ’20) is creating a virtual model of a 2.5km2 area of the Minnesota River Valley so kids and teachers can visualize the history of change in the area. Using Minecraft to build the world, he has re-created part of the Minnesota River at three points in time: 5,000 years ago, 10,000 years ago, and 15,000 years ago. The visualization shows how a landscape changes through time and models major features associated with glacial and river activity. The project’s goal is to help teach the general public, starting with middle school aged kids, to understand how glaciers and rivers transform the landscape and to think about the environment from a geologic perspective. Through the use of Minecraft, Sawyer hopes to reach a broad audience and involve more people in geology. He also hopes that the use of the popular game Minecraft will engage kids in understanding the spatial impact of change over time.
“The concept that geology is dynamic is not something that the average person thinks about on a daily basis,” says Sawyer. “It is, however, something that impacts the average person because of decisions made by generations of people that didn’t have the knowledge of geology we have today. Building projects, houses, decisions to move to regions of the world, build things on the edges of cliffs and on top of fault lines. These are all choices that looked good on the surface but if you look through a geologic lens you can see an innumerable list of things that could go wrong. My project has the goal of giving the next generation the knowledge to not make the same mistakes caused by ignoring geology.”


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