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3D-Printed Earthquake Data Visualizes The Impact Of Natural Disasters

Inspiration struck visualization specialist Doug McCune in the middle of the night—in the form of a 6.0 scale earthquake.

by Beckett Mufson
09 September 2014, 4:30pm

On Aug. 24, 2014, visualization specialist Doug McCune awoke to the sounds of the largest earthquake to hit his San Francisco Bay-area neighborhood in 25 years. Within minutes, he had tremor data downloaded from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) with a new project in mind—to use his knowledge of 3D printing and data visualization to demonstrate how this quake compares to tectonic disasters of the past.

“I was curious to understand how the shaking that woke me up compared to the larger earthquakes that hit San Francisco in 1989 and 1906,” McCune told "I thought that getting 3D prints of all three to look at side by side would be a good way for me to understand how the earthquakes differed.” Using a custom-built software package to interpret the 2D data from the USGS and convert it into a 3D model—a task he was used to because of his experience visualizing natural disasters for insurance companies—McCune converted the quake's two-dimensional, color-based visualization into a three-dimensional visualization that used height, instead of color, to communicate intensity. He then printed that visualization into a series of nine tiles, arranged to represent the Bay area.

Still a work in progress—McCune is currently creating maps of the 1989 and 1906 earthquakes which devastated San Franciscans past—once complete, he plans to display all three at a the Diode Gallery for Electronic Art next April, alongside some of his other 3D printed and laser-cut visualizationsIt's a fascinating look at the ways in which data visualization is able to successfully communicate information of tremendous scale and scope—we just hope McCune won't have too much new quake data anytime soon.

For more of McCune's innovative data visualization projects, visit his website, or check out the software for yourself on his GitHub page. Related:

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Natural Disaster
data viz
san fransisco
doug mccune