Application of virtual earth in 3D terrain modeling to visual analysis of large-scale geological disasters in mountainous areas

  • Miao Yu
  • Yu Huang
  • Qiang Xu
  • Peng Guo
  • Zili Dai
Original Article


Sudden large-scale geological disasters can be triggered in mountainous areas by events such as earthquakes, rainfall, volcanic eruptions, or human activity, leading to serious loss of life and property. Generating digital elevation model (DEM) for such geological disasters allows the rapid identification of affected areas, which is essential for emergency response and hazard mitigation. The main aim of this study is to propose a low-cost and efficient method based on virtual earth to generate a three-dimensional (3D) DEM. Based on the terrain model, numerical simulations can be conducted and the results integrated with virtual earth to perform 3D visualization and visual analysis. The method proposed in this study may solve some limitations existing in other more traditional methods. For example, historical topographic maps exist mostly in paper format, which is not conducive to spatial analysis, while interpretation of remote-sensing images generally requires professional knowledge at a high cost. The emergence of the virtual earth platform of Google Earth (GE) provides new possibilities for generating terrain models. Terrain information can be extracted efficiently and freely from GE using an application programming interface (API) and then used to generate DEM. In this paper, the Donghekou landslide-debris flow triggered by the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake was selected as a case study. 3D visualization of the temporal-spatial dynamic process of a natural disaster was carried out by combination of the numerical results and GE imaging. The comparison of the study case with field survey data proves the validity of the proposed method as it describes the real terrain shape and determines the slide distance accurately, although the elevation error may be large. The free and easy-to-use method proposed here can provide an intuitive basis for hazard assessment and rapid responses to geological disasters.


Sudden large-scale geological disaster Virtual earth 3D terrain modeling Visual analysis Google Earth Hazard assessment 



This work was supported by the National Key Technologies R & D Program of China (Grant No. 2012BAJ11B04).


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Miao Yu
    • 1
  • Yu Huang
    • 1
    • 2
  • Qiang Xu
    • 3
  • Peng Guo
    • 1
  • Zili Dai
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Geotechnical Engineering, College of Civil EngineeringTongji UniversityShanghaiChina
  2. 2.Key Laboratory of Geotechnical and Underground Engineering of the Ministry of EducationTongji UniversityShanghaiChina
  3. 3.State Key Laboratory of Geo-hazard Prevention and Geo-environment ProtectionChengdu University of TechnologyChengduChina

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