EGU General Assembly 2022
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Geological mapping in an immersive virtual world: A proof of concept

Patrice Rey
Patrice Rey
  • The University of Sydney, School of Geosciences, Sydney, Australia (

The pandemic has put this technology on the radar of many gamers, educators, and entrepreneurs. The capacity to collaboratively build and share synchronized virtual spaces is opening new avenues for distance education.  In STEM, field-based disciplines benefit the most from investment in VR technologies, as they can be used to build digital replicates of ecological environments and geological landscapes to be used in conjunction with real fieldwork experiences. Building virtual worlds is fast because most of the digital assets embedded into VR worlds are put together in applications supporting 3D formats (Paraview, Sketchup, QGIS or ArcGis, MatLab, Mathematica, etc). These assets can then be embedded into virtual worlds via a simple drag-and-drop process.

Using NEOS metaverse engine (free for non-commercial usage), I have built a digital replicate of the landscape I use for an introduction to geological mapping in sedimentary terrains. The 3D landscape, from central NSW in Australia, was put together in QGIS using a lidar image delivering a pixel footprint of 5 m, and a high-resolution satellite image from GoogleEarth. This 3D landscape was exported in gltf format using the Qgis2threejs plugin, and imported into a NEOS empty world, put to scale, and geographically oriented. To add to the realism, I added a skybox with a sun whose position changes with time, some 3D models of gum trees, bushes, and logs (bought on Sketchfab for a few dollars) and, since this landscape is on a working farm, some royalty-free sounds (cattle, sheep, bird, and bees).  Scans of 3D outcrops, 3D models of fossils, 2D digital photographs, 360 images were then be positioned onto the virtual landscape. These assets can easily be toggled on and off if necessary. The bulk of this geological mapping world took a few days to put together, and the cost was minimal since I used mainly open-source applications, open datasets, and free digital assets. Importantly, once a NEOS VR world is built, a limitless number of sessions can be open concurrently, allowing students to work in small groups without interferences with other groups. Students can be forced to walk on the digital landscape or be allowed to fly and see the landscape from a bird's view perspective to better grasp geological features or regain their bearings should they get lost.

Importantly, I designed and programmed, using NEOS’ scripting language, a fully functional geological compass for structural measurements, as well as a GPS handset since our virtual landscape is properly georeferenced. NEOS has a digital camera with which students can record pictures or movies, that can be easily exported onto their computers. These virtual devices allow students to record geological information the same way they would in the field. Though no virtual experiences can replace real field experience, the technology has evolved to a point where it can be used very effectively, either before going in the field so students get familiar with the geological landscape or after allowing students to revisit key outcrops or visit outcrops they may have missed.

How to cite: Rey, P.: Geological mapping in an immersive virtual world: A proof of concept, EGU General Assembly 2022, Vienna, Austria, 23–27 May 2022, EGU22-1386,, 2022.