Virtual Skiddaw: 3D geology field trip

Enter experiment
Subject Earth Env

A virtual field trip in the Lake District of the UK.

Background and nature of the task 

Virtual Skiddaw presents geological fieldwork in a 3D immersive digital landscape created using real world data from part of the northern Lake District in the UK. The experience is focused on the rocks around an outcrop of the Skiddaw granite, and takes the form of an investigation into the metamorphism that has affected these rocks, and the structural features that provide evidence for how the rocks were deformed, around 400 million years ago.

We have used a digital elevation model derived from airborne LiDAR data and terrain imagery to reconstruct the landscape faithfully enough to provide a real sense of presence for the user. The application is based around a 10km x 10km low to medium detail model of the terrain around Skiddaw with overlaid photogrammetry-derived mesh and textual imagery, and augmented with in-built Unity terrain and flora. The sense of immersion is heightened by ambient audio recorded on location, as well as spoken audio for teaching content.

In this 3D environment, you will be able to explore six sites within the Skiddaw landscape where each site is typically no more than 50m x 50m - on the ground or from the air. You will be able to browse through the map overlays, cruise around the whole area, or dip down to visit geological sites for detailed observations on the geology.  You will be able to view the rocks at all scales from a field sketch down to a slide under the microscope. In each of the sites, you will be carrying out a number of activities such as sketching rocks, describing hand specimens of rocks, checking the regional context of the sites, contrasting texture and mineralogy of two rock types, sketching exposures and describing structural fabrics and features, and so on.

 Duration and pattern of use

You should allow several hours for a full exploration of Virtual Skiddaw, though you can split that time between several visits if you wish. About 3 to 4 hours should be enough to complete the activities and answer the questions. In your first visit, you will require 20-30 minutes to get oriented with the user interface of the application.

 Additional comments

This 3D virtual geology field trip activity uses the 'Unity web player' (plug in) for the web browser. If you do not already have this installed you will be prompted to install this when you launch the application.

During this activity you can launch the virtual microscope to view slides of the appropriate rock samples. The virtual microscope will load into a new web browser window. However you may get a message telling you that 'the pop-up has been blocked'. You will need to adjust the pop-up blocking settings  of your web browser which can vary depending on the type of web browser you are using.

The Skiddaw virtual field trip is a fairly large application and may take a few minutes to load. Some web browsers may 'time out' during installation and you might get message during loading 'The following plug-in is unresponsive: Unity Player. Would you like to stop it?' Click no and the application will load shortly afterwards.

Want to know more?

Virtual Skiddaw is currently used as part Open University module S209 (Earth science). However, if you are a School or University interested in using this application, please contact in order to discuss options. For a short video showing the application in action click here.

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