VolcanoVR: The visualization of geological data in a 3D virtual reality environment as a multipurpose research, monitoring and outreach tool
With the increasing size and variety of geological datasets, visualisation can be challenging. Here, we demonstrate the possibilities of volcanic data visualisation utilising virtual reality (VR) and 3D game engine technology to create a robust and adaptable program (called VolcanoVR) to display complex datasets for the purposes of volcano monitoring, education/outreach and research. VolcanoVR was developed using Unity 3D and the C# programming language with application to the Taupo Volcanic Zone (TVZ), New Zealand. VolcanoVR allows for the visualisation of volcanic data such as earthquakes and field station measurements (e.g. gas chemistry, GPS, lake levelling sites) along with a topographic map with various overlays including the surface geology. Its effectiveness was evaluated through a user survey. A total of 33 participants were surveyed, returning overall positive qualitative and quantitative feedback. Immersion scores averaged at 4.09 (σ = 0.78) out of 5 and System Usability Scale (SUS) scores averaged at 72.93 (σ = 14.05) out of 100. Substantial qualitative feedback was also given by the participants which suggests fixes/new features to help guide the future development of VolcanoVR. VolcanoVR is designed to complement current monitoring and research efforts by the Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences (GNS) and provides research and outreach opportunities for the TVZ and beyond. Overall, the program has been shown to be effective for improving complex data visualisation for the purpose of volcanic monitoring and research and could help to close the communication barrier between different specialists, and between researchers and students for education purposes.