07/17/2012 08:53 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2012

Exploration: When The Technology Trail Runs Out

Today's explorer has an ever growing inventory of knowledge upon which to draw for guidance in the field. Much of this manifests in the form of increasingly advanced technology and equipment that serves to facilitate sample collection, analysis and evaluation, measurement, direction finding, as well as course plotting instrumentation crucial to the success of many a modern expedition. As this progressively sophisticated array of tools becomes more cost effective and widely available they are swiftly becoming integral to expeditions today. It is clear that as science and technology continue to provide for an expanding set of resources, exploration is being transformed as never before.

As new technologies take hold and become mainstays of the expedition domain, the explorer-scientist has become consequently reliant on these frequently to the detriment of traditional methods of exploration. While numberless vital technically supported activities in the field can be conducted with minimal scientific knowledge precluding explicit understanding, equipment malfunction can result in the loss of critical data. Technological dependence in the field can in some circumstances jeopardize extrication and even survival. It is imperative that the explorer prepare accordingly.

Although impossible to fully keep up with the onslaught of new technological developments, a basic understanding of how these function can help allay catastrophe, alleviating the vulnerability and false security of unchecked technological reliance. Of perhaps even greater benefit towards mitigating harmful consequences caused by equipment support failure is for the explorer to possess a keenly developed understanding of the natural realm, its functions and variances.

Although some still covet the valiant forays of early expeditions devoid of sophisticated support, exploration's scientifically driven transformation overall weighs solidly towards a positive progression. Today technologies involving robotics and computer imagery allow field research and its subsequent discoveries to be undertaken with minimal intrusion or permanent impact and can provide access to regions that were previously inaccessible. However technology should be viewed as an enhancement rather than considered as a means to supplant the skills formerly requisite for expeditions. In the pre-technological support era, in order to conduct research and discovery in the field a well tuned natural skill set was required, a grasp of practical survival involving a honed ability to read and decipher nature's messages.

As technically fostered options continue to lure explorers into the field, the competencies crucial to early expeditions are often being overlooked and are increasingly forgotten, perhaps even at risk of vanishing altogether. There are no shortcuts to acquiring such knowledge garnered only through study and experience. Much of the proficiency of the early explorers involved vigilant observation skills, the ability to perceive and interpret nature's manner of communication. The timeworn bend of a tree trunk, the thickness of its bark, the direction of ripples on a pool of water, the ecological patterns and their discrepancies offered throughout the natural world all yield important clues to the prepared explorer.

While the increasingly complex scientific objectives and ever widening boundaries of exploration's new frontiers preclude going back to minimally supported expeditions of former times, the accelerating pace of technological enhancement and its uneven application and understanding has tendered disconnects particularly in unpredictable and rapidly changing situations where mistakes can easily be made. Scientific and technological equipment in the field is most effective when used for support and analysis in the quest for understanding.

The explorer's practiced ability to recognize the intricacies and aberrations presented in the field opens the window to additional discovery within the natural world providing autonomy critical for both discovery and survival.