Virtual Reality in Geoscience

According to Wikipedia, Virtual reality (VR) is a simulated experience that can be similar to or completely different from the real world. Virtual reality comes from the definitions for both ‘virtual’ and ‘reality’. The definition of ‘virtual’ is near and reality is what we experience as human beings. So, the term ‘virtual reality’ basically means ‘near-reality’. This could, of course, mean anything but it usually refers to a specific type of reality emulation. Virtual reality in technical terms is a three-dimensional, computer generated environment which can be explored and interacted with by a person. That person becomes part of this virtual world or is immersed within this environment and whilst there, is able to manipulate objects or perform a series of actions, scary huh? I, personally find the concept of virtual reality intriguing.

There is also Augmented reality, a cousin to virtual reality. What is Augmented Reality (AR)? Augmented reality allows the user to see the real world with virtual objects superimposed on it

There are a lot of applications of virtual reality and these include entertainment (i.e. gaming) and educational purposes (i.e. medical or military training). VR in Geosciences should be an interesting application in the visualization of the subsurface.

So, geoscientists have used data visualization as a means of aiding in the cumbersome task of modeling the subsurface environment. A virtual reality (VR) application is described that not only permits the user to manipulate interpreted geological surfaces or interfaces but also supports the simultaneous manipulation of the three-dimensional seismic data from which the interpretations were derived. Two dimensional textures are used to represent vertical slices of migrated seismic data; these slices can be loaded and processed dynamically. An informal evaluation has been performed and results show that VR has significant potential to improve the ability of geoscientists to analyze their data and to collaborate on its interpretation.

Based on the observation that most scientific visualizations are contained within a closed world, a novel user interface concept called the Closed World Interaction (CWI) paradigm has been implemented in this application. The evaluations were applied to this technique; the results indicate CWI can improve accuracy and speed for setting range. A group of professional geoscientists and software developers were invited to evaluate this application, and the results demonstrate that the interpretation of geoscience data has been enhanced.

Also, in geology, three-dimensional digital models of geological objects are relatively easy to create and geolocate on virtual globes such as Google Earth and Cesium. Emerging technologies allow the design of realistic virtual rocks with free or inexpensive software, relatively inexpensive 3D scanners and printers, and smartphone cameras linked to point-cloud computing services.

With interactive 3D digital models of rocks, minerals, fossils, drill core, geo-archaeological objects, and outcrops, designers and users can;

  • Reveal 3D features hidden inside solid specimens
  • Archive samples destined for destructive testing;
  • Prepare for field trips and reinforce learning and retention after the fact;
  • Aid peer-review and supplement electronic publications;
  • Give access to geological materials for disabled and other non-traditional students; and
  • Provide access to collections locked away in storage drawers, given that museums and other repositories display only a small fraction of their holdings.
  • Virtual rocks can also be gradually altered to illustrate geological processes, such as weathering, deformation, and metamorphic mineral growth.


Culled from Virtual reality for geosciences visualization (Ching-Rong Lin et al) and Virtual rocks: A new spin on virtual geology (Science daily).

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