Virtual Reality Modeling Language
Virtual Reality Modeling Language (VRML 2.0) is a new environment
for visualizing 3-D information spaces and is accessible through
the Internet with current browser technologies. Researchers from
the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are using VRML as a scientific
visualization tool to help convey complex scientific concepts to
various audiences. Kevin W. Laurent, computer scientist, and Maura
J. Hogan, technical information specialist, have created a collection
of VRML models available through the Internet at "Virtual
"Recent Earthquakes" Was One of First Applications Implemented
on USGS Website
One of the first VRML applications implemented through the USGS
web is a model called "Recent
Earthquakes", that is created in real-time based on the latest
significant earthquakes from around the world as reported by the
USGS's National Earthquake
Information Center. Even though this application uses a small
sample of earthquakes, the resulting model still conveys the concept
that earthquakes tend to occur along plate boundaries; an effective
visualization to accompany any discussion of plate tectonics. When
demonstrated for school tours and public exhibits, this model was
especially well received. Students, parents, and teachers commented
on the model's use of real-time data, its accessibility through
the Internet, and the ability to examine the model from any perspective.
"The students I've worked with are really drawn to the VRML models,"
said Maura Hogan, "The combination of the computer, the Internet,
and highly illustrative graphics captures their imagination and
Another application, "Mount
St. Helens: Before and After" uses USGS digital elevation models
(DEMs) to create virtual terrains of the volcano before and after
its 1980 eruption. The result is a model that helps convey the immense
volume of the mountain that was ejected in the eruption.
Working with Michael P. Ryan, USGS volcanologist, Laurent and
Hogan developed several models that use three-dimensional earthquake
locations to depict a volcano's internal "plumbing system." This
plumbing system is the movement of magma inside a volcano. One of
the most recent models is of the island
of Hawaii and focuses on the area containing Mauna Loa, Kilauea,
and Loihi. This model represents the location of over 27,000 earthquake
events recorded over a period of almost 30 years (1969-1997) and
allows the user to animate the series of events over time.
"Using VRML allows us to render complex data sets in an environment
where the scientist can examine the data in ways previously impossible,"
explains Kevin Laurent, "The scientist's ability to move from visualization
to decision support is compelling."
VRML is a valuable modeling technology that can enhance the communication
of complex scientific concepts. As a web-enabled technology, citizens
can access these information products from any Internet connection
and interact with the data as a 3-D information space.
Kevin W. Laurent, USGS, 703/648-7139 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and Maura J. Hogan, USGS, 703/648-4348 (email@example.com)