Introduction: 3-D Visualization of a Ground-water Plume

All geology is a variation on this 3-D visualization. You have multiple data points in the subsurface, although typically not enough. And you have to make sense of them.

This 3-D visualization shows the distribution of tetrachloroethylene concentrations in ground-water samples collected at an environmental site. This visualization is a geologist's view of the world. We carry this view in our minds and it has only been in the last 10 to 20 years that there has been cost-effective software to share this view with non-geologists. This may be one of the reasons why geologist are a little "funny."

A word on chemistry. Tetrachloroethylene is the liquid used in dry cleaning. This chemical has several synonyms such as perchloroethylene, perc, or PCE. I will use PCE throughout this text. It is a liquid, it evaporates or vaporizes easily, it is heavier than water, it can dissolve in water, and it is a carcinogen. It is persistent in the environment because even though it can break down given the right geochemical conditions, it breaks down slowly and, hence, can travel a great distance. And the breakdown products can have health effects as well. It is a very effective degreaser, hence, PCE was used for dry cleaning and for decreasing in industrial applications. Because it was so effective, it was widely used. However, it wasn't until the 1980s that environmental regulations came into effect that caused communities and businesses to address the spills of these contaminants or to understand the impacts of those spills.

Step 1: My Own Visualization History

Here is a hand-drawn, 3D visualization produced in 1986 in my attempt to understand a chromium ground-water contaminant plume. While somewhat effective, it is a static image and does not easily allow the visualization of other information such as different viewing angles, multiple geologic layers, groundwater flow directions, concentrations over time, etc.  

Step 2: The Visualization Animation

Here is a link to an animation of the 3-D visualization:

The software used:
EQuIS for database management > EVS for visualization  > Camtasia for video production.


Data Visualization Contest

Participated in the
Data Visualization Contest