Interactive terrain visualization enables virtual field work during rapid scientific response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake

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The moment magnitude (Mw) 7.0 12 January 2010 Haiti earthquake is the first major earthquake for which a large-footprint LiDAR (light detection and ranging) survey was acquired within several weeks of the event. Here, we describe the use of virtual reality data visualization to analyze massive amounts (67 GB on disk) of multiresolution terrain data during the rapid scientific response to a major natural disaster. In particular, we describe a method for conducting virtual field work using both desktop computers and a 4-sided, 22 m3 CAVE immersive virtual reality environment, along with KeckCAVES (Keck Center for Active Visualization in the Earth Sciences) software tools LiDAR Viewer, to analyze LiDAR point-cloud data, and Crusta, for 2.5 dimensional surficial geologic mapping on a bare-earth digital elevation model. This system enabled virtual field work that yielded remote observations of the topographic expression of active faulting within an ∼75-km-long section of the eastern Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault spanning the 2010 epicenter. Virtual field observations indicated that the geomorphic evidence of active faulting and ancient surface rupture varies along strike. Landform offsets of 6–50 m along the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault east of the 2010 epicenter and closest to Port-au-Prince attest to repeated recent surface-rupturing earthquakes there. In the west, the fault trace is well defined by displaced landforms, but it is not as clear as in the east. The 2010 epicenter is within a transition zone between these sections that extends from Grand Goâve in the west to Fayette in the east. Within this transition, between L'Acul (lat 72°40′W) and the Rouillone River (lat 72°35′W), the Enriquillo–Plantain Garden fault is undefined along an embayed low-relief range front, with little evidence of recent surface rupture. Based on the geometry of the eastern and western faults that show evidence of recent surface rupture, we propose that the 2010 event occurred within a stepover that appears to have served as a long-lived boundary between rupture segments, explaining the lack of 2010 surface rupture. This study demonstrates how virtual reality–based data visualization has the potential to transform rapid scientific response by enabling virtual field studies and real-time interactive analysis of massive terrain data sets.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Interactive terrain visualization enables virtual field work during rapid scientific response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake
Series title Geosphere
DOI 10.1130/GES00687.1
Volume 8
Issue 4
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Geological Society of America
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description 18 p.
First page 787
Last page 804
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