The UA GeoVis Laboratory is located in Smith Hall Room 111 is equipped with 12 PCs and a GeoWall, a relatively low-cost 3D visualization system that can be used in a classroom setting. Viewers wear special glasses — similar to those worn at 3D movie theaters — to allow them to perceive depth in the image projected on the screen.

Unlike similar systems at other universities, our GeoWall is primarily intended for introductory-level classes, and allows us to better present visual concepts such as

  • topographic relief
  • crystal structure
  • faults and folds
  • plate tectonics
  • subsurface stratigraphy
  • three-dimensional groundwater flow

The GeoWall also allows us to

  • present sterographic images of maps and photos
  • present three-dimensional “fly-throughs” of topographic/bathymetric images
  • represent any dataset in three dimensions
  • participate in virtual fieldtrips and “visit” remote locations not otherwise possible– €”a field trip to Mars!
  • create three-dimensional datasets in a lab setting

Virtually all 3D visualization systems work by allowing you to see one image with one eye, and another image with the other. If the two images represent views from two offset positions, the brain will interpret what it sees as being fully three-dimensional. In the case of the GeoWall, polarization filters are used to show different images to each eye. The GeoWall comprises the following components:

  • Two DLP projectors
  • Polarization preserving screen
  • Linearly polarized filters
  • Linearly polarized glasses
  • Ceiling mounted projector stacker
  • Computer with a high end graphics board and dual monitors.
  • Public domain and commercial software to display GeoWall images

Why GeoVis Is Important

Understanding of spatial relationships is fundamental to the study of the geosciences. Unlike the majority of students, most geoscientists have been trained to use two-dimensional representations in order to understand three-dimensional relationships. Extrapolating two-dimensional images to three dimensions requires spatial thinking skills that are difficult to learn and often form a stumbling block for students at the introductory level. Studies have shown that many people do not have well developed visual skills —viewing data in three dimensions is more intuitive for many of these people and will provide greater insight and understanding of the data.

Until about 10 to 15 years ago in the field of the geosciences, academia led industry in the type and range of technology being used. Rapid technological advances in the oil industry, driven largely through the need to explore in increasingly hostile areas and extract every last drop of oil from a reservoir, have now resulted in dramatic reversal of this pattern to the point that there is a large disparity between the somewhat dated methods used in academia and those used in industry.

One particular aspect of the geosciences in which academia is particularly lacking is visualization. The oil industry now routinely uses three-dimensional visualization technology to view complex datasets. Geoscientists and engineers can literally walk into a three-dimensional display of an oil field and determine the best location to position an oil rig, €”some are still using paper and pencil. Three-dimensional visualization technology, particularly in the realm of 3D seismic data, has been referred to as the geological equivalent to the Hubble space telescope [Cartwright and Huuse, 2005]. The quality, quantity, and resolution of the data that can be assimilated by an individual has increased dramatically. The GeoWall brings three-dimensional visualization into the introductory level classroom, giving students experience, though at a modest scale, in the sort of technology that is available in industry today.

Cartwright, J., and M. Huuse, 3D seismic technology: the geological “Hubble”, Basin Research, 17 (1), 1-20, 2005.