People have been mapmaking throughout history, dating back to cave paintings and ancient maps. Maps have been used to represent the real world on a relatable scale and are used as tools to understand and navigate the world. In the early 1960s, geographic information systems (GIS) were created and developed by Dr. Roger Tomlinson for use by the Canada Land Inventory. Since then, GIS has been used in a broad range of industries as a tool for acquiring, managing, analyzing, and visualizing data: municipalities use GIS technologies to manage their infrastructure and assets, the forestry sector uses LiDAR to measure and analyze tree stands, multispectral imagery is used for agricultural applications such as crop disease detection, and Google Maps uses continually updated satellite imagery.
What is 3D GIS?
Until recently, geographical data has been laid on a two-dimensional (2D) flat representation of the world. Elevation information was stored in an additional field to be visualized with a symbol, within a raster, or to be used for analysis. With the introduction of three-dimensional (3D) GIS, this elevation value has become a part of the locational measurement, as the z-value, allowing for enhanced visualization of the data. Typically, these elevation values represent real-world height values such as topographical height above mean sea-level.
Benefits of 3D Data
- Elevation data within a 2D map is usually represented as coloured cells in a raster or as contour lines. When you look at a 2D map, you have to interpret the symbols to understand the height information. On the other hand, anyone can look at a 3D map and immediately visualize and interact with it as a real-world landscape.
- 3D maps show a multi-perspective view of an area that would have otherwise been stored in multiple 2D maps.
- 3D data is captivating and relatable to a broad audience which makes it a powerful communication and education tool.
Why Aren’t 3D Maps Used More Often?
3D mapping is often perceived as a novelty rather than a scientific tool since there are limitations with how static 3D data is created and used:
- The creation of 3D data involves large datasets that are often expensive to acquire and store.
- Software used to process the data is usually expensive, with a steep learning curve and/or is hardware intensive.
- Data is difficult to distribute to users due to file size and format, software and hardware compatibility.
- Challenging to view 3D files alongside existing data.
These drawbacks mean that people who want to view the 3D data need to have the technical knowledge, a powerful computer with the proper programs installed, and the patience to download large files.
Interactive 3D Visualizations
Innovations in web technology and cloud computing have addressed these issues head-on, now allowing users to access accurate, high-resolution datasets within a virtual environment on most consumer-grade devices. Since the data has been simplified and hosted within the web application, there is a vast increase in performance allowing the user to immediately pan, zoom, and rotate around the scene into areas of interest.
Other sources of geographic data can then be layered on top of the scene as contextual information. Any content can be added within the customizable application to allow the user access to resources such as locational pins, roads, links to report documents, image galleries. Temporal change can also be visualized by using sliders.
Many coastal communities are at risk of sea-level rise induced flooding as an effect of a changing climate. Extensive research on the expected influence of these changes is being funded to help decision-makers mitigate risks. However, many stakeholders are unable to access this information as they may not have the software, hardware or knowledge to download and process the data.
Accessing this data through an interactive 3D visualization would increase the usefulness of the data:
- Allowing for the visualization, interpretation and accurate assessment of coastal areas and infrastructure.
- Providing insights into economic, environmental and cultural results of potential flood events within coastal communities by including supplementary information such as report documents and significant infrastructure pins.
- Alerts can be set up to warn the user when utility buildings are at risk of flooding or to highlight alternative evacuation routes when roads are impassable.
Visualize Forest Fires
In some regions, climate change is increasing the likelihood of hot, dry conditions and the potential risks of forest fire events. Several variables affect the spread of wildfires such as weather, topography and the location of fuel sources. Specific data can be used within an application to best predict and simulate a wildfire scenario:
- The LiDAR-derived scene and predicted weather conditions can be used to compute the spread of forest fire.
- Infrastructure, roads, fuel source locations, water sources, and other asset data can be draped over the scene and flagged during the forest fire simulation.
- Relevant emergency management documents can be listed within the application.
Bringing Data to Life
Interactive 3D applications tackle many of the drawbacks associated with the applications of 3D map visuals:
- Vivid LiDAR-derived imagery can be used as the backdrop for a 3D application. Relevant data can then be draped over the terrain to build a powerful tool that can be viewed and understood by all stakeholders.
- Applications can be used on any device on any network: small file sizes can be shared to a browser, embedded into a website or used within a presentation.
- There are no limits to what can be added alongside the scene in the application.
- Other formats of data such as report documents, images, hyperlinks, etc. can be included as resources. All project files can be accessible to application users.
3D Wave Design can bring your data to life. Contact us today.
Charlotte has a Double Major in International Development Studies and Environment, Sustainability & Society from Dalhousie University and an Advanced Diploma in Geographic Information Systems & Remote Sensing from the Centre of Geographic Sciences (COGS). As a new member of the 3D Wave team, she is excited to apply her background in GIS, web development, and environmental studies to upcoming projects.