EGU General Assembly 2020
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

On uncertainty in geoscience decision making

Cristina Wilson and Thomas Shipley
Cristina Wilson and Thomas Shipley
  • Temple University, Psychology, United States of America (

Uncertainty is a feature of all science, but geoscientists tend to operate under a higher degree of uncertainty at every level of scientific decision making (Bárdossy and Fodor, 2001). Geoscientists work in fundamentally less predictable environments, where direct observation and experimental control are difficult or impossible due to the large time spans of geologic processes. We are cognitive psychologists who collaborate with geoscientists to better understand the influence of uncertainty on geologic decision making, and to identify the ways expert scientists constrain decision making using heuristics (i.e., rules of thumb).

This presentation will review our work on geologic decision making under uncertainty, focusing on how scientists use heuristics when making spatiotemporal data collection decisions. Our research demonstrates that, when the gradient of data value in the environment is uncertain, scientists use heuristics to decide where to go (in space) to collect data. Heuristics are efficient and effective in many circumstances, but can leave experts vulnerable to decision bias. In ongoing research, we explore whether new field workflows (uncertainty mapping) or mobile robotic platforms (terrestrial, aerial) can debias decision making. Our research agenda is translational, with the goal of improving scientists’ interpretation of geologic phenomena in the field.

How to cite: Wilson, C. and Shipley, T.: On uncertainty in geoscience decision making, EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-20882,, 2020


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displays version 1 – uploaded on 02 May 2020
  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-20882, John Bruun, 08 May 2020

    Dear Cristina

    It was great to hear about your work this week and to chat with you.

    I would like to follow-up with your point:

    "We view geoscience, cognitive psychology, and engineering as a “Trading Zone” where each discipline mutually benefits from the participation of others (term comes from science philosopher Peter Galison). For example, cognitive psychologists won’t truly understand the mind until we leave the lab, and study behavior in the complexity of the real world. The idea of a “Trading Zone” connects nicely with some of the ideas raised by @Kelly Redecker and @John Bruun earlier."

    I'm at and it would be good to hear how this trading zone links together with the approach Audrey and myself are building. 

    Best John

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Cristina Wilson, 25 May 2020

      My apologies John - I just saw your comment. I will respond to you by email soon.