3D Geology

3D (three dimensional) geologic models are digital representations of geologic data in a 3D space. Using these models, surficial and subsurface data may be viewed from various perspectives. This would otherwise be impossible with traditional flat maps. Animation of 3D geologic models also allows for viewing geologic changes with time. Events, such as landslides, water table fluctuations, or earthquakes can also be modeled with this technique.

Why 3D Models Are Important

3D geologic models are a method of portraying complex data interactively. The interactivity of the models allows non-geologists a better understanding of this complex data than is possible using a 2D map.

For example, try to explain to someone what a tree looks like with only a drawing. Now explain the tree again using a picture. Finally, go outside and show that person a tree. In this scenario, you likely found that showing someone a tree was the best way of communicating what a tree looks like. Similarly, 3D models are the most descriptive method of showing the geology (“tree”) without actually requiring a visit to the location.

Additionally, as much of the geologic data we collect lies below the earth’s surface, 3D models are a great way to see geologic conditions at depth. This helps us to understand seismic hazards, landslide potential, and groundwater availability to name a few.

How We Build Our 3D Models

Creating a geologic model begins with data collection. Geologists collect data in the field and interpret it using their training and skills. They use a 2D mapping program called ArcGIS to give the data coordinate information. This coordinate information allows the data to be located spatially, much like how a GPS (global positioning system) can locate a car on the road. The GIS (Geographic Information System) data is then brought into a second program, ArcScene, which allows for visualization of depth or elevation data. With this, the geologists can now see their data in true three-dimensional space.

To share the 3D models, files are converted into formats that can be opened in two common programs. Data are placed into KMZ files which can be opened in Google Earth. The models are also packaged into interactive PDFs accessible with Adobe Reader. Both of these programs are free, and may already be installed on your device.

What We Do

3D geologic visualization is an emerging field with significant applications for geologic issues in Washington such as hazards, geotechnical engineering, hydrology, and resource recovery. Using these models, we can dynamically view surficial and subsurface data from various perspectives. Geologists at the Washington Geological Survey can use these new tools to better understand how the surface and subsurface are shaped by geology. These visualizations also help other geologists, scientists, and the general public to view and understand geology in a more intuitive way.

Geologists in the Survey have pioneered new methods to provide 3D visualization to the public in the form of KMZ geology overlays for Google Earth and individual 3D geologic maps. The 3D geologic maps are an innovative and dynamic tool for interactively viewing geology. The Survey is proud to be among the first few geologic organizations in the world to provide these products to the public. Other organizations spearheading 3D models include the British Geologic Survey and the Government of South Australia, Department of State Development.

Get our 3D Models

Various 3D geologic models are available for you to download and explore. In addition, several instructional documents and tutorial videos are available for those who may be unfamiliar with Google Earth or 3D PDF files. There are Google Earth KMZ files depicting the 1:100,000-scale geology for each county in the state—click on the interactive map below to obtain the files. 3D PDF models exist for many 1:24,000-scale quadrangles and feature additional subsurface information such as cross sections and boreholes. A new depth to bedrock model has been produced for the Puget Lowland.

  • 3D PDFs
  • Google Earth geology overlays
  • Depth to bedrock models
  • User guide for 3D PDF geologic maps.

    Click on the map below to download 3D PDF geologic maps.

  • Click on the map below to download 1:100,000-scale geologic map KMZ files for use in Google Earth. County names will appear when you hover your mouse over the map.

    Instructions for KMZ Files

    Download the instructions, or watch the following YouTube video:

  • Click the image below to download Models of bedrock elevation and unconsolidated sediment thickness in the Puget Lowland, Washington. This was compiled and interpreted from previous publications on the subject, well logs, geotechnical data, seismic surveys, and geologic mapping.

    Eungard, Daniel W., 2014, Models of bedrock elevation and unconsolidated sediment thickness in the Puget Lowland, Washington: Washington Division of Geology and Earth Resources Open File Report 2014-04, 20 p, 2 plates, scale 1:475,000.

    Bedrock elevation map of the Puget Lowland, showing major structural basins.