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Virtual Reality Methods for Research in the Geosciences

  • In the presented work, I evaluate if and how Virtual Reality (VR) technologies can be used to support researchers working in the geosciences by providing immersive, collaborative visualization systems as well as virtual tools for data analysis. Technical challenges encountered in the development of theses systems are identified and solutions for these are provided. To enable geologists to explore large digital terrain models (DTMs) in an immersive, explorative fashion within a VR environment, a suitable terrain rendering algorithm is required. For realistic perception of planetary curvature at large viewer altitudes, spherical rendering of the surface is necessary. Furthermore, rendering must sustain interactive frame rates of about 30 frames per second to avoid sensory confusion of the user. At the same time, the data structures used for visualization should also be suitable for efficiently computing spatial properties such as height profiles or volumes in order to implement virtual analysis tools. To address these requirements, I have developed a novel terrain rendering algorithm based on tiled quadtree hierarchies using the HEALPix parametrization of a sphere. For evaluation purposes, the system is applied to a 500 GiB dataset representing the surface of Mars. Considering the current development of inexpensive remote surveillance equipment such as quadcopters, it seems inevitable that these devices will play a major role in future disaster management applications. Virtual reality installations in disaster management headquarters which provide an immersive visualization of near-live, three-dimensional situational data could then be a valuable asset for rapid, collaborative decision making. Most terrain visualization algorithms, however, require a computationally expensive pre-processing step to construct a terrain database. To address this problem, I present an on-the-fly pre-processing system for cartographic data. The system consists of a frontend for rendering and interaction as well as a distributed processing backend executing on a small cluster which produces tiled data in the format required by the frontend on demand. The backend employs a CUDA based algorithm on graphics cards to perform efficient conversion from cartographic standard projections to the HEALPix-based grid used by the frontend. Measurement of spatial properties is an important step in quantifying geological phenomena. When performing these tasks in a VR environment, a suitable input device and abstraction for the interaction (a “virtual tool”) must be provided. This tool should enable the user to precisely select the location of the measurement even under a perspective projection. Furthermore, the measurement process should be accurate to the resolution of the data available and should not have a large impact on the frame rate in order to not violate interactivity requirements. I have implemented virtual tools based on the HEALPix data structure for measurement of height profiles as well as volumes. For interaction, a ray-based picking metaphor was employed, using a virtual selection ray extending from the user’s hand holding a VR interaction device. To provide maximum accuracy, the algorithms access the quad-tree terrain database at the highest available resolution level while at the same time maintaining interactivity in rendering. Geological faults are cracks in the earth’s crust along which a differential movement of rock volumes can be observed. Quantifying the direction and magnitude of such translations is an essential requirement in understanding earth’s geological history. For this purpose, geologists traditionally use maps in top-down projection which are cut (e.g. using image editing software) along the suspected fault trace. The two resulting pieces of the map are then translated in parallel against each other until surface features which have been cut by the fault motion come back into alignment. The amount of translation applied is then used as a hypothesis for the magnitude of the fault action. In the scope of this work it is shown, however, that performing this study in a top-down perspective can lead to the acceptance of faulty reconstructions, since the three-dimensional structure of topography is not considered. To address this problem, I present a novel terrain deformation algorithm which allows the user to trace a fault line directly within a 3D terrain visualization system and interactively deform the terrain model while inspecting the resulting reconstruction from arbitrary perspectives. I demonstrate that the application of 3D visualization allows for a more informed interpretation of fault reconstruction hypotheses. The algorithm is implemented on graphics cards and performs real-time geometric deformation of the terrain model, guaranteeing interactivity with respect to all parameters. Paleoceanography is the study of the prehistoric evolution of the ocean. One of the key data sources used in this research are coring experiments which provide point samples of layered sediment depositions at the ocean floor. The samples obtained in these experiments document the time-varying sediment concentrations within the ocean water at the point of measurement. The task of recovering the ocean flow patterns based on these deposition records is a challenging inverse numerical problem, however. To support domain scientists working on this problem, I have developed a VR visualization tool to aid in the verification of model parameters by providing simultaneous visualization of experimental data from coring as well as the resulting predicted flow field obtained from numerical simulation. Earth is visualized as a globe in the VR environment with coring data being presented using a billboard rendering technique while the time-variant flow field is indicated using Line-Integral-Convolution (LIC). To study individual sediment transport pathways and their correlation with the depositional record, interactive particle injection and real-time advection is supported.

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Author:Rolf Westerteiger
URN (permanent link):urn:nbn:de:hbz:386-kluedo-39435
Advisor:Hans Hagen, Bernd Hamann, Christoph Garth
Document Type:Doctoral Thesis
Language of publication:English
Publication Date:2014/10/12
Year of Publication:2014
Publishing Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Granting Institute:Technische Universität Kaiserslautern
Acceptance Date of the Thesis:2014/10/07
Date of the Publication (Server):2014/12/10
Tag:geographic information systems; geology; terrain rendering; virtual reality
Number of page:IX, 101
Faculties / Organisational entities:Fachbereich Informatik
CCS-Classification (computer science):D. Software
DDC-Cassification:0 Allgemeines, Informatik, Informationswissenschaft / 004 Informatik
Licence (German):Standard gemäß KLUEDO-Leitlinien vom 28.10.2014