Real world–based immersive Virtual Reality for research, teaching and communication in volcanology

Abstract

Direct outcrop observation and field data collection are key techniques in research, teaching and outreach activities in volcanic areas. However, very often outcrops are of difficult or impossible access, such as in areas with active volcanoes or steep cliffs. Classical remote-sensing surveys by satellites or airplanes are expensive, rarely reach sufficient resolution to allow high-quality 3D visualisation of volcanic features and do not facilitate mapping of vertical cliffs. We describe a novel approach that uses immersive Virtual Reality (VR) based on real-world 3D Digital Outcrop Models (DOMs) from images surveyed by “unoccupied aerial system” (UAS). 3D DOMs are built up using the Structure-from-Motion (SfM) photogrammetry technique, and a VR scene is created using game engine technologies. Immersive real-time exploration of the environment is possible through a head-mounted display, e.g. Oculus Rift. Tools embedded in the VR environment allow the user to map polygons, lines and point features. Tools also allow to measure orientation, dip, inclination, azimuth, area and thickness and even take virtual photographs. Using three examples of volcanic areas with different geological features, we demonstrate the potential of our approach to allow users to be able to virtually map and measure remotely, and to collect data for research and teaching. Our approach is of paramount importance also for outreach, as it allows non-specialist audiences (e.g. common citizens) to experience and appreciate highly complex volcanic features through customised, hands-on immersive VR tools.

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Acknowledgements

We greatly appreciated the useful comments on an early version of the manuscript of the Editor, Jacopo Taddeucci, and two anonymous reviewers. The UAS survey of the Dallol volcano was made in collaboration with Olivier Grunewald (https://www.oliviergrunewald.com/). Agisoft Metashape is acknowledged for photogrammetric data processing.

Funding

This study was funded by project ACPR15T4_00098 “Agreement between the University of Milan Bicocca and the Cometa Consortium for the experimentation of cutting-edge interactive technologies for the improvement of science teaching and dissemination” of Italian Ministry of Education, University and Research (coordinated by A. Tibaldi), and project Erasmus+ Key Action 2 2017-1-UK01-KA203-036719 “3DTeLC - Bringing the 3D-world into the classroom: a new approach to Teaching, Learning and Communicating the science of geohazards in terrestrial and marine environments” (coordinated by M. Whitworth). The examples are integrated into the UNESCO International Geosciences Program project 692 “Geoheritage for Geohazard Resilience” (coordinated by B. van Wyk de Vries). This article is also an outcome of Project MIUR – Dipartimenti di Eccellenza 2018–2022 and ILP Task Force II.

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Correspondence to A. Tibaldi.

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Editorial responsibility and Deputy Executive Editor: J. Tadeucci

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Tibaldi, A., Bonali, F.L., Vitello, F. et al. Real world–based immersive Virtual Reality for research, teaching and communication in volcanology. Bull Volcanol 82, 38 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00445-020-01376-6

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Keywords

  • Volcanology
  • Teaching & scientific communication
  • Immersive Virtual Reality
  • Head-mounted displays