3D visualisation systems

Voxel model in GeoVisionary.

Geoscience visualisation is a fast growing area, and BGS is one of the world leaders in its application and development. Visualisation systems enable geoscientists to communicate with each other and with end users from diverse disciplines to better understand complex and varied datasets.

The three dimensional visualisation systems (3DVS) team works closely with business partners to develop immersive visualisation systems and techniques for geoscientists.

Communication of 3D geoscience

We use the latest software and hardware to visualise geoscience data in 3D and provide a mechanism for effective communication of BGS science. By using dedicated 3D visualisation facilities to run software such as GeoVisionary, geological understanding and risk/confidence is more easily conveyed. The 3DVS team has been involved in a number of high profile projects such as communicating the geological confidence of storing radioactive waste to visualising shale gas/oil rocks and their proximity to aquifers.


UK3D in the Isle of Wight.

BGS is proud to develop GeoVisionary in partnership with Virtalis Ltd.

GeoVisionary is a world leading geoscientific information system for visualisation and interpretation of geoscience datasets in a virtual reality environment.

Geoscientists use a wide variety of software to answer specific questions. Each is usually modelled and visualised in its own package. GeoVisionary is the first software to offer the ability to visualise comprehensively all of these elements together in a single, immersive 3D stereoscopic environment, as well as on desktop PCs and laptops.

Geoscience datasets are often huge, and high resolution visualisation can be difficult with existing software. GeoVisionary solves this problem by loading entire baseline datasets (DEM and Imagery) of virtually unlimited size and detail, allowing the user to load localised data from diverse sources without delay.  GeoVisionary's powerful graphics rendering engine gives seamless, real time access to the entire data resource.

BGS has created an add-in for ArcGIS that links the GIS with GeoVisionary, connecting traditional GIS with the 3D virtual landscape.

GeoVisionary and virtual field reconnaissance

Virtual fieldwork in Tajikistan - NASA SRTM terrain model draped with ASTER satellite image.

GeoVisionary was first developed to enable BGS geologists to undertake virtual field reconnaissance; to virtually visit the field before undertaking fieldwork. This has several advantages. Spatially referenced datasets can be integrated and examined in 3D to establish relationships and make interpretations. In particular geological features can be mapped via their topographic expression: this is known as feature mapping and is a technique used by field mappers to map in vegetated countries, such as the UK, where rock exposure is sparse.

The combination of GeoVisionary's powerful visualisation engine, landscape interpretation tools and high resolution terrain models, which are now available for the UK, make it possible for the geologist to immerse themselves in the landscape and map out features that directly relate to the geology. These interpretations are the basis of the geological map.

The GeoVisionary environment also allows detailed planning of fieldwork. For overseas areas in particular where access is more challenging than in the UK, the geologist can visualise map and imagery data overlain on the ground surface to assess the feasibility of visiting a geologically important area.

Exploration and mining

Voxel model showing distribution of Bowland Shale in the north of England.

Datasets such as ore bodies, voxel models of ore density, deviated boreholes, mine plans and tunnels and seismic data can be integrated together into GeoVisionary for mineral resource exploration, analysis and extraction. GeoVisionary can be used measure precisely the mineral/ore being extracted, monitor the impact on the environment, and communicate these to the stakeholders, an important part of managing the effect on the surrounding environment.

Regional resource assessment 

Visualisation and interpretation of regional resources and their properties is important for assessing potential reserves and hazards associated with their extraction and their impact on the environment. The 3DVS team can help bring together hundreds of datasets into GeoVisionary to show relative locations and analyse such things as aquifers and their permeability, shale rock gas/oil net maturity, and lithological variation of soils and rocks in and around cities.

High resolution mapping and monitoring

Figure 1: two terrestrial LiDAR datasets showing coastal erosion over time.

LiDAR laser scans are routinely used to capture the morphology of quarries, cliffs, caves and tunnels along with other geological data to attain very fine resolution datasets to millimetric precision. These scans can contain a number of points ranging from a few thousand to several billion. The 3DVS team works closely with BGS's laser scanning experts to help visualise these points in the virtual world. Figures 1 – 3 show how laser scanned point clouds have been visualised with GeoVisionary to help monitoring and understanding of coastal erosion. Loading multiple scans allows measurements to be taken between scans from different dates.

Figures 2 and 3 show the seamless elevation surface generated by stitching together the onshore LiDAR and offshore bathymetry data, both at 1 m spatial resolution.

Figure 2: Chesil beach.
Figure 3: St Albans Head.

The urban environment and GeoVisionary

GeoVisionary provides simultaneous high resolution 3D visualisation of city models and geoscientific models.

By using Virtalis MaxExchange software (a plug-in for Autodesk 3DS Max) it allows CAD models to be easily imported into GeoVisionary.

For added realism in GeoVisionary projects, we can incorporate simple animations created in 3DS Max, such as flying aircraft or vehicles moving along roads.

GeoVisionary helps us to understand the geology under our feet, but it is also an important tool for visualising future developments, communicating risk and environmental impact.

Immersive 3D visualisation facilities

BGS scientists using the Keyworth i3DVF.

BGS has, at its headquarters in Keyworth and in Edinburgh, Virtalis ActiveWall single channel stereographic visualisation systems.

The 3DVS team provides support, training and expertise for the visualisation and analysis of data from GIS and geological models in software such as GeoVisionary, ArcScene, ArcGlobe, Google Earth, NASA World Wind and QT Modeler.


The BGS SARndbox installation in the Keyworth reception.

BGS  has installed an augmented  sandbox exhibit  at their headquarters in Keyworth. Known as the SARndbox, the interactive exhibit was primarily set up  for school science events and public open days.  However, visitors are welcome to drop anytime during our office opening hours (Monday to Friday  8.00 am – 5.30 pm) and have a play.  

Originally designed and implemented by Oliver Kreylos at UC Davies' W. M. Keck Center for Active Visualisation in the Earth Sciences, a small team of BGS staff (Vince Hulland, Bruce Napier and Humphrey Wallis) took the design and developed an improved version. (See Oliver’s original design.) Our improved design uses a better projection path, which produces a cleaner surface image with less shadowing compared to its original counterpart. It also requires a space with lower ceiling clearance than previous models.  

The SARnbox system runs on a Dell T5610 PC with the Fedora 19 (KDE edition) operating system on an SSD drive. The PC uses an Intel i7 combined with a Geforce 780GTX graphics card and 8Gb of RAM.  On top we are using an Epson EB 4550 central throw projector with an Xbox 360 Kinect. The Kinect acts as the 3D imaging camera/detector.

As you dig around in the sand,  the Kinect is able to detect the changes in the sand's surface using a laser light and some basic trigonometry.   These changes are then fed back to the SARnbox program, which in turn dynamically remaps the surface image to reflect any changes. This is then output via the overhead  projector back on to the surface of the sand. The process is repeated 30 times a second. Using the same dynamic model the SARndbox can also calculate and project fluid motion over the virtual surface with some very impressive results.

Meanwhile back at Davis University, Oliver continues to develop the SARndbox app with many new and existing features planned for the next release.


Contact Bruce Napier for more information.