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Went live onTitleReference
1 Mar 2012Virtual reality helps geological investigationsSID0410
British Geological Survey scientists worked with Virtalis to develop a high-resolution virtual reality system that enables landscape visualisation. Its software integrates data from many sources and is used in a variety of geological investigations.
Researchers have created a geoscience visualisation tool that enables users to move about in a realistic virtual environment. It provides a 3D landscape complete with spatial data about, for example, geological features above and below ground, geochemical details and road networks.

The system is known as GeoVisionary. It was developed by British Geological Survey (BGS) scientists and Virtalis, a virtual reality and visualisation company. BGS is the longest established national geological survey in the world. It has extensive geological data sets gathered over decades, which can now be accessed in this novel way.

GeoVisionary software is powerful enough to allow multiple data sets to be accessed in real-time and at full speed. The software immerses users in 3D images that are projected onto the walls of a viewing suite. While roaming in a landscape, users interact with data sets and interrogate them as appropriate. For example, they can visualise a line-of-sight surface view in any direction from a user's vantage point, or venture underground to examine a cave system.

GeoVisionary has enabled BGS geologists to make substantial reductions in preparatory fieldwork, which used to take several days at the start of investigations. Now this can be done in a virtual environment in a matter of hours, leaving scientists free to concentrate on detailed studies once in the field. Mining companies are also using GeoVisionary to handle large quantities of data that they gather. This is used to visualise, for example, the geology of an area that is being prospected for new mineral deposits.

'Modern geological surveys benefit from an abundance of existing spatial information. These range from historic topographic maps to borehole records,' says John Ford, Team Leader for Geology and Landscape England at BGS. 'However, assimilating this wealth of spatial information and ensuring that geological interpretation is consistent with the evidence can present geologist with a major challenge. Use of GeoVisionary in a recent integrated re-survey of the York district has provided the project team with an unprecedented ability to assess and interpret the full range of baseline information in 3D,'

'Landscape literacy (ability to interpret the ground surface in terms of its underlying geology) is a fundamental part of any geological survey', Ford adds. 'GeoVisionary's ability to "enhance" the landscape in the York district has revealed significant features that were too subtle to recognise in the field. In conjunction with a seamless interaction with digitally captured field data, it's resulted in increased accuracy and efficiency of delivery for the revised geological map.'

GeoVisionary is being used elsewhere in Europe. Adrien Mangeot, information systems engineer, ANDRA (French national radioactive waste management agency) explains its use:

'We've created an information-rich 2,000 square kilometre GeoVisionary model centred round our underground research laboratory. The fact that all 7,000 measured parameters feed into it was something we never envisaged would be possible when our database was begun in 2003. Previously, we had to go from one database to another to view specific information. Now it's all in one place. It's almost complete, but, as we constantly collect data, the model will never be static.'

'GeoVisionary's immersive qualities make data easier to understand, encouraging collaborative working,' continues Mangeot. 'It will be a central tool in our research, prior to construction of the planned facility for the storage of high-level and long-lived intermediate-level radioactive waste in 2017. Importing all our data into GeoVisionary has been time-consuming, but the benefits are enormous.'
Actual impactsPractice
Impact evidenceJoint development with a commercial organisation of a high-resolution 3D landscape visualisation system that incorporates multiple geological data sets. Potential, and actual, application in a variety of industries and situations.
Key outputsComputer model
Research and Collaborative Centres
CentreBritish Geological Survey
Science themesSustainable use of natural resources, Natural hazards, Technologies
Science areasEarth
Policy areasEnvironmental technology