3D Models and Animations for Teaching Structural Geology and Tectonics

Paul Karabinos, Williams College

Interactive 3D models help students visualize and apply fundamental concepts in structural geology and tectonics. Trimble SketchUp is a useful way to create such models and animations; there is a free version and the professional version is free to educators. Interactive SketchUp models show how the stereographic projection is used to plot the trend and plunge of lines and the strike and dip of planes, and how to measure angles between geometric features. 3D models also illustrate how to use structure contours to test if a contact is planar or folded, find the true thickness of a formation, determine strike and dip of planar features, estimate slip on faults, and create cross-sections. SketchUp models can simulate plate tectonic geometry on the surface of a sphere, and be used to demonstrate the Euler pole of rotation between two plates. Models can be exported as COLLADA digital asset exchange (.dae) files and incorporated into an iBook or uploaded to a web service designed to share 3D models such as Sketchfab. It is also possible to export models as 3D PDFs, and animations can be exported in a variety of movie formats to facilitate sharing and dissemination.


Teaching about time and scale