For such intensely practical publications British Geologic Survey maps have an
extraordinary beauty. Yet despite their beauty and precision they have one inherent
and inescapable flaw. They must show a three-dimensional world in two
dimensions. Geological mapping is used to calculate earthquake probabilities, to
predict floods and to inform flood defences. It has turned the search for valuable
minerals from a lottery of prospecting to one of near-certain predictions and moved
our understanding of life on earth forward through an increasingly complete fossil
record. Scientists at BGS produced the first comprehensive map of African
groundwater reserves.

But to use even the best maps every geologist and surveyor and amateur fossil-
hunter must learn the trick of turning a two-dimensional paper image into a three-
dimensional mental picture, something that’s neither easy nor reliably repeatable.
It’s why one of BGS’ key aims for the next decade is to complete a move from 2D
mapping to 3D imagery.

Little wonder Virtalis, one of the world’s leading exponents of VR in industry have
found such enthusiasm for their StereoWorks visualization system among the British
Geological Survey – as Doctor Martin Smith, Head of Station, BGS, Edinburgh,
explains: “With VR the need to move from 3D to 2D and back again is negated. A
project team can work together to construct a 3D model, interact with the data and
interpret them as a group.’

Early enthusiasts for Christie’s Mirage S+4K projector, Virtalis had used it as part of
an integrated StereoWorks visualization at BGS headquarters in Nottingham and
then in an almost identical installation at a regional facility in Edinburgh. So
successful were these that Virtalis proposed an upgrade to a full 3D immersive
modelling environment.

This demanded a Virtalis-written software package — and the Christie Mirage
S+4K’s ability to project high-grade active stereo onto a 3.1 x 2.3m screen.

Andrew Connell Virtalis technical director says Christie’s Mirage has a lot going for
it in this 3D environment “This tool allows geologist to present their findings in a
compelling and involving way. It supports head and hand tracking for a fully
immersive stereo display.’ The Mirage’s input bandwidth of 220MHz means the
image can also react instantly to the user’s head position and provide a holographic
effect – and then geologists become genuinely immersed in the landscape.

Able to read data from models including strata, earthquake epicentre and
magnitude, geo-specific imagery and conventional data, multiple images can be
blended onto the same underlying topography. Satellite imagery can merge with
political maps – and then fade into color-coded geological data.

The British Geological Survey, Virtalis and Christie are helping scientists look at the
world in a different way – one that will have a profound effect on the understanding
of how our home planet works, the resources it contains, and the threats it faces as
our population grows and climate changes.

Amid all this change, and whilst Geological Mapping may have come a long way
since paper and ink, two things remain constant, an undimmed desire to explore the
earth in all its complexity, and the undeniable beauty of the images that are created
to explain it.