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Volume 30 Issue 6 (June 2020)

GSA Today

Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF

Visualization and Sharing of 3D Digital Outcrop Models to Promote Open Science

Paul Ryan Nesbit, Adam D. Boulding, Christopher H. Hugenholtz

Dept. of Geography, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada

Paul R. Durkin

Dept. of Geological Sciences, University of Manitoba, 66 Chancellors Circle, Winnipeg, Manitoba, R3T 2N2, Canada

Stephen M. Hubbard

Dept. of Geoscience, University of Calgary, 2500 University Drive NW, Calgary, Alberta T2N 1N4, Canada


High-resolution 3D data sets, such as digital outcrop models (DOMs), are increasingly being used by geoscientists to supplement field observations and enable multi-scale and repeatable analysis that was previously difficult, if not impossible, to achieve using conventional methods. De-spite an increasing archive of DOMs driven by technological advances, the ability to share and visualize these data sets remains a challenge due to large file sizes and the need for specialized software. Together, these issues limit the open exchange of data sets and interpretations. To promote greater data accessibility for a broad audience, we implement three modern platforms for disseminating models and interpretations within an open science framework: Sketchfab, potree, and Unity. Web-based platforms, such as Sketchfab and potree, render interactive 3D models within standard web browsers with limited functionality, whereas game engines, such as Unity, enable development of fully customizable 3D visualizations compatible with multiple operating systems. We review the capabilities of each platform using a DOM of an extensive outcrop exposure of Late Cretaceous fluvial stratigraphy generated from uninhabited aerial vehicle images. Each visualization platform provides end-users with digital access and intuitive controls to interact with large DOM data sets, without the need for specialized software and hardware. We demonstrate a range of features and interface customizability that can be created and suggest potential use cases to share interpretations, reinforce student learning, and enhance scientific communication through unique and accessible visualization experiences.

Manuscript received 5 Nov. 2019. Revised manuscript received 12 Feb. 2020. Manuscript accepted 26 Feb. 2020. Posted 24 March 2020.

© The Geological Society of America, 2020. CC-BY-NC.


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