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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

GCAGS Transactions


Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies Transactions Vol. 58 (2008), Pages 47-48

EXTENDED ABSTRACT: A Custom Software Approach to Sharing Multidimensional Geoscience Research Findings

John R. Andrews1, Lesli Wood1, and James C. Gibeaut2

1Bureau of Economic Geology, Jackson School of Geosciences, University of Texas at Austin, 10100 Burnet Rd., Bldg. 130, Austin, Texas 78713

2Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi, 6300 Ocean Dr., Unit 5869, Corpus Christi, Texas 78412


The Software

Visualization technology, a key component of modern geoscience research, continues to advance and evolve, enabling geoscientists to understand better complex, multidimensional geological processes. A significant barrier remains, however, when scientists using this technology attempt to convey research findings to the scientific community and to the general public, both of whom may not have access to the software, hardware, or data underlying the research. We have responded to this problem by developing a unique software product for exploring 3D data. Built using Trolltech's Qt and SIM's Coin3D toolkits, the software is a full-featured, cross-platform tool for visualizing geoscience data. We have developed numerous versions of the software, each version bundled with data and contextual information addressing a particular research interest: “ Pattern Analyses of Dune-Field Parameters,” for example, or “Debris Flow Processes and Deposits in a Tectonically Active Margin Basin.” To peruse a completed project, scientists or the public need only visit our website and download a self-extracting .zip file that contains both the viewing software and data. No additional software or plug-in is needed. After launching the software, users will find a comprehensive 3D project with numerous scenes organized by theme. A full suite of graphical user interface (GUI) tools, pop-up information panels, fly-throughs, and audible narration are provided to enhance the user's understanding of the geological concepts and data presented in the project. Stereographic viewing is supported, along with other features found in traditional geoscience software applications.

A Rapid Application Development Process

Because each project is unique with respect to the data, GUI elements, and other features found therein, the source code from one project to the next is likewise unique and would typically take a considerable amount of time to write for each individual project. We avoid this time sink through the use of a rapid application development process developed in-house. Using this technique, a detailed spreadsheet for each project is created; this spreadsheet contains information about the geological data, GUI elements, and other features to be included in the final project. When the spreadsheet is complete, it is converted to C++ source code using software written in-house. This code is then compiled into a project executable, which is then ready to be shared with the scientific community and public.


All of our projects begin with an “Introduction” page that includes acknowledgments and a brief tutorial for exploring the project. Arrayed across the bottom of the main project window are buttons which the user can click to view different scenes in the project. For the aforementioned “Debris Flow Processes” and “Deposits” project these include: “Introduction,” “Region,” “Study Area,” “Morphology,” “Formation,” “ Dropcore,” and “Structure.” Clicking one of these “scene selection” buttons has the following effect:

  • the 3D data window is populated with data specific to the chosen scene, and
  • various GUI elements—buttons, sliders, etc—associated with the scene are now visible.

If the user clicks “Region,” for example, regional data populates the 3D data window. Datasets include: lines denoting survey blocks, faults, and channels; a 3D surface representing regional topography and bathymetry; and points indicating well and dropcore locations. These and other data layers can be turned on or off with the click of a button. The user can also select which image should be overlaid on the topographic surface; an image depicting elevation is the default, but others derived from satellite imagery or aerial photography are also available. Similarly, users can select which attribute field of a point data layer should be used to color the points in that particular layer; for example, we can choose to visualize the percent sand, silt, or clay of individual dropcore depending on which attribute we elect to feature. To help explain the data and geologic concepts presented in a particular scene, panels with text information and/or images pop-up by moving the mouse over select buttons or features within the 3D scene. Viewpoint buttons enable the user to change the viewpoint to pre-defined locations; of course, the user can also rotate, translate, and zoom in to or out of the scene using the standard click-and-drag sequence employed by most 3D viewing applications. As with most scenes, a slider is present in “Region” with which the user can adjust the vertical exaggeration of the 3D data.

To close the “Region” scene and open another, the user simply clicks one of the other scene selection buttons. Some scenes have links to higher resolution sub-scenes. In the “Morphology” scene, for example, the user can click on one of four hot-spots within the scene; doing so brings up very detailed data of the selected area including horizons extracted from seismic data and 3D fence diagrams. Fly-through animations in which data and information panels turn on and off at set intervals enhance user understanding of the data and concepts presented in this and other scenes throughout the project.


Our custom software enables us to share research findings in a unique, interactive 3D viewing application. A rapid application development process created in-house ensures that the turnaround time from project conception to completion is kept to a minimum. Screen captures from existing projects and a sample, completed 3D project can be downloaded at http://www.beg.utexas.edu/coastal/gcags2008/3d.htm.

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