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Desert Diary


Technology works wonders for such disciplines as cell biology and genetics. Where would these laboratory sciences be without powerful microscopes or the wherewithal to sequence the very stuff of inheritance? The excitement generated by increasingly sophisticated laboratory instrumentation may cause us to forget that technological advances play major roles in the field-oriented sciences, too. One example is in determining geographic position.

In the early days of biological exploration in the desert Southwest, little importance was assigned to location. Often, the railroad stop from which specimens were shipped back east was given as the locality. For example, the original specimen from which the Desert Shrew was named is labeled as El Paso—but no second specimen has ever been taken there, and likely it was captured many miles away. As the importance of geography was recognized, maps were used to estimate positions, often with errors measured in miles. Thanks to Global Positioning System instrumentation based on satellite technology, location can quickly be determined with an accuracy of feet. No longer do we worry, is it really from...?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.

GPS instrument

One of a number of GPS instruments commercially available. Photograph by A. H. Harris.



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