3-D Visualization Theater

  • Check out the new 3-D movie "Lake Tahoe in Depth"
  • Take a 3-D virtual reality flight through Lake Tahoe.
  • Dive under the water and fly around the watershed.
  • See inside planet Earth and explore where earthquakes originate with Global Earthquake Viewer.
  • Request to watch "Mapping Change" to see how the the growth of conifers can be correlated to climate change in the Sierra Nevada range.
  • Coming soon "Let's go jump in a lake" a look at the changes that occur in lakes over different variations of time.

The 3-D Visualization Theater, located at the prestigious Tahoe Environmental Research Center (TERC) is a state-of-the-art facility and the centerpiece of our efforts to both understand the complexities of Lake Tahoe and to educate and inspire the next generation of scientists and engineers.

The 3-D Visualization Theater 1) assists and advances the work of UC Davis researchers and other collaborators, 2) houses tools for presenting and manipulating very large datasets, and 3) presents scientific data in revolutionary ways to provide students and the public with a better understanding of complex issues.       

Computer simulation and data visualization offer a method for seeing the unseen. They enrich the process of scientific discovery and foster profound and unexpected insights. In many fields, they revolutionize the way that scientists do science.  The goal of visualization is to leverage existing scientific methods by providing new scientific insight through visual methods.

In the 3-D Visualization Theater, visitors don 3-D glasses to explore inside the earth, under the water, and around the watershed.  

We currently highlight existing geoscience datasets in 3-D for visitors, researchers and students, including:

  1. Lake Tahoe in Depth Movie (Vimeo online): You can see into the lake, under the water, and around the watershed. Lake Tahoe is affected by many impacts including urbanization, loss of clarity, invasive species and climate change. This tour provides the underlying geologic history of the basin for a better understanding of these issues.
  2. Lake Tahoe Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and Bathymetry (MPEG-1, 24MB): Explore a 3-D model of the Lake Tahoe basin using a multiresolution terrain visualization program. The visualized data is a combination of a 10m-resolution digital elevation map provided by the US Geological Survey, and a 1m-resolution color image provided by the commercial IKONOS earth observation satellite. With 3D glasses on, visitors are taken on a tour of the Lake Tahoe watershed, both around the mountain basin and under the water. Trained docents currently lead a discussion of geologic formation of the lake basin including horst and graben faulting, volcanic activity, active earthquake faults (with visible evidence in underwater sediments), evidence of an underwater landslide which caused a past tsunami, and other unique features of the watershed. Lateral moraines left behind by glaciers, avalanche scars, evidence of erosion and the impacts of development are all visible for discussion and teachable moments of discovery.
  3. Earth Viewer and Earthquake Dataset (QuickTime, 29MB and online Global Earthquakes): The Earth Viewer shows a global earthquake catalog showing hypocenters of earthquakes of magnitude 5.0 or more from the last 65 years (62,000 events total). Visitors can easily “see” the tectonic plate boundaries and discover the difference between spreading rift zones and subduction plate boundaries. Zooming into the interior of the earth to view the inner core, outer core, mantel and crust, the visitor views this data as if they were inside the planet looking at the depth, angle and magnitude of the earthquake activity.
  4. Lake Tahoe LIDAR (Earthquakes and Natural Hazards): Airborne laser contour mapping uses a combination of three technologies; compact laser rangefinders (LIDAR), accurate inertial reference systems (INS) and global positioning satellite system (GPS). By integrating these into a single instrument mounted in a small airplane or helicopter, it is possible to produce accurate digital topographic maps of the terrain beneath the flight path of the aircraft.The absolute accuracy of the elevation data is 15 cm; relative accuracy can be less than 5 cm. LIDAR mapping of the Lake Tahoe Basin is tentatively scheduled for summer 2010 and 3-D visualization of this dataset will provide scientists and visitors with a whole new way to "see" the geology of the basin and provide visual information about the forest (tree density, canopy, etc.).


The National Science Foundation recently funded the 2011 - 2014 Informal Science Education (ISE) grant for "3D Visualization Tools for Enhancing Awareness, Understanding, and Stewardship of Freshwater Ecosystems" (DRL# 1114663). UC Davis TERC has partnered with the UC Davis KeckCAVES, UC Berkeley Lawrence Hall of Science, ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center and Institute for Learning Innovation to expand upon the ability of 3-D visualizations to impact STEM engagement, understanding, attitudes and behaviors. The project will yield a suite of publicly available learning resources on freshwater ecosystems, including immersive 3-D visualizations; portable science stations with multimedia; a facilitator guide for docent training; and a “Developer’s Manual” to allow future locations to readily incorporate the technology and methods to be developed.

By combining immersive 3-D technology with inventive hands-on learning aids, complex concepts in ecology, physics and earth science can be more readily comprehended by a broad audience. The focus on lakes and fresh water resources is also timely, as they are threatened on a variety of fronts but absolutely essential for societies worldwide. By the time the project ends we will have developed interactive learning tools for two of the world’s iconic lakes, Lake Tahoe and Lake Champlain, and created a blueprint for extended this approach to any lake, anywhere.

For additional details, please contact Heather Segale, education and outreach director, 775-881-7562 or hmsegale@ucdavis.edu.