Google SketchUp

submitted by Jaime Toro, West Virginia University

General Description

Click to enlarge.
SketchUp is a 3D drawing tool designed primarily for architectural applications, however with a little bit of ingenuity it can be used to make models of 3D geological structures. It is has a link to Google Earth which allows you to bring a terrane model from Google Earth and to export your 3D models to it. However, most geological models lie below the surface, so this is not the best way to display them.

Uses of the Program

I have used this program to help students visualize the interaction between geological structure and topography, to illustrate map patterns of refolded folds, and thrust belt map patterns (klippe and windows). There is a huge repository of 3D models of all kinds of things at the SketchUp 3D warehouse.

Audience and Setting

It can be used at any level for show and tell. Best suited to the lab, ideally after exposure to the real thing, or in preparation for it.

Examples of Educational use

After field-mapping, drawing a cross section, and attempting to draw a geological map, I show the students the 3D model. It helps them understand how the contacts can be extrapolated across slopes and over ridges. assignments

How to Get the Software

There is a free version of program available for downloading, or you can buy SketchUp Pro for about $400.

How to Use this Software

To make a 3D model I create sequential cross sections using 2DMove, export them as dxf (Autocad format) and in SketchUp I connect the layers in adjacent cross sections to form surfaces. It is best to keep the cross section simple and use kink geometry to minimize the number of nodes. Once the structural model is complete, I add the terrain model and intersect it with the structure. There are extensive tutorials available from the SketchUp website's help center.


Creating 3D Geological Maps using Sketch Up (PowerPoint PRIVATE FILE 1.1MB Feb11 08), a presentation from the 2008 workshop on Teaching with New Geoscience Tools.

Two examples of SketchUp models:

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