3D analyst for modelling subsurface geology, any tutorial ?

08-08-2011 06:32 AM
New Contributor
I am a geologist, We have recently purchased a ArcGIS version 10.0 (arc view) with 3D analyst extension (trial version of extension).
We would like to evaluate utility of 3D analyst for the application of 3D modelling of subsurface geology. We also want to plan drill hole targets using the arc scene or related tools.

Is there any tutorial specifically designed on using 3D analyst for modelling subsurface geology?

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7 Replies
New Contributor III
Hi Yask,

Take a look at the following link.  You might find it useful.


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Occasional Contributor II
Here's one example video of Subsurface Visualization. The video shows how to create a fence diagram, cross section from borehole data using 3D Analyst in ArcScene. http://resources.arcgis.com/gallery/video/3dgis

General workflow of the tools used on this video is outlined on this forum post:
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New Contributor
Thanks for your replies

if in case anyone else come across such totorial videos or material please share...

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Regular Contributor
We would like to evaluate utility of 3D analyst for the application of 3D modelling of subsurface geology.

3D Analyst is great for visualizing data that has already been created. 3D DXF exported from geology software, etc. Although one HUGE problem is that you cannot label anything in ArcScene. I only find it usefull for pretty images on a cover page of a brochure but this is NOT the tool for modelling subsurface geology.  Other factor to consider is that you cannot create geology cross sections.  Typically, when modelling subsurface geology, you would start with creating contact polygons on your sections then generating 3D mesh objects out of these slices.  ArcGIS does not even have any sort of 3D gridding/kriging/interpolation that would generate 3D objects/voxels from downhole data. Although that would not be a selling point for me; I am not a geologist but work with geologists on daily basis so I know that 3D gridding/interpolation is most of the time out of the question as there is a lot of manual professional interpretation involved when the contact polygons are created. 

I've successfully generated some subsurface multipatch objects from boreholes but that is VERY labor intensive. No automation whatsoever; you have to manually isolate upper and lower level of you lithology data from your input points then create a TIN from the upper and the lower level points, then extrude between these two surfaces to produce the 3D multipatch object. Very, VERY time consuming. Not the way it should be done.  I've used a bunch of geology software packages (and currently use several) and those that let you create 3D subsurface geology all use a similar technique of drawing polygons on a series of sectional regularly spaced views then create 3D objects out of these polygons slices. (Basically connecting vertically oriented contours) The better tools allow you to snap to values on the drillholes or even digitize in 3D. But even with 3D digitizing the principal idea is still basically the same; connecting vertically oriented polygons into 3D objects.

Additionally, in ArcGIS there is also not much support (Out-of-the-box) for converting drillhole data (collars, surveys, assays, lithology, etc.) to anything other then points. To generate tracers, you will need a 3d party tool or write your own with ArcObjects and .Net VB / C#.  (no survey azimuth, distance, dip data import, XYZ downhole surveys only to points)

There is a Target (Geosoft) plugin ($2600) for ArcGIS that adds some useful functionality to ArcGIS but it's geared towards creating sections / drillhole management rather then subsurface modelling. I would not recommend it. Buggy, slow, not very polished.

The full version of Target ($6500) is better, faster and does more but only 3D gridding to voxel, no serious subsurface modelling. Not bad for quick sections and digitizing on sectional views. (can export digitized polygons vertically oriented, does inclined sections)

Geomcom GEMS ($9000 ?) is a great tool for all of the above including full 3D modelling and 3D digitizing with snapping environment and all but it really sucks on the output and plotting side of things. I mean sucks really bad. Can't really get anything other then a screen capture out of it on demand.

Leapfrog Mining. ($10000 / year) I have just installed it so i can't comment but it is said to be the absolute best subsurface modelling tool. Of course the price of 10G per year is mind-blowing. Leapfrog also offers Leapfrog Hydrology which has amazing reviews and it has been recommended to me in the past.  I've seen what Leapfrog can do and it is jaw-dropping. But is is really dedicated to 3D, not much support in terms of cross sections, labeling, etc.

Other tools to consider: 
Datamine Studio
- never tried it but am planning to evaluate in the least. I've seen some outputs and videos and it looks great for all management, sections and 3D modelling.

Rockworks by Rockware - it's been recommended to me several times but I am having difficulty contacting them for a trial.  It seems a bit blurry as to what it can do but enough people use it.

And lastly, after all this being said;  i will probably end up using ArcGIS to generate most of our cross sections. The geology software is very expensive and also very buggy. Personally I need to generate top notch sectional views rather then 3D models. I have all of our lithology in 3D already (GEMS, Leapfrog) and it looks fantastic but analysts want to see clearly labelled sections with values and lithology not 3D models. None of the tools I've tried has the capabilities ArcMap has in terms of layout features, labeling, etc. So, as a result I am in the process of writing some custom tools (ArcObjects, .Net Add-ins) that will allow me to "flip" the subsurface data to sectional orientation then digitize my lithology in ArcMap.
Occasional Contributor III


See this (link updated) :

Digital Mapping and 3D Visualization/Modelling of Subsurface Geology Using ArcGIS  and Well Log Data...

Executive Summary

This is a step-by-step instruction manual of digital mapping and 3D visualization/modelling of subsurface geology using ESRI ArcGIS software and well log data. ArcGIS makes it possible to derive almost all of the building blocks for 3D visualization/modelling, including 3D wellbores, geological surfaces, cross-sections, fence diagrams, block diagrams, faults and geological solids, from a single shapefile with well log data, including well locations (x and y coordinates) and picks for geological formation tops (z value). The ArcGIS components include ArcMap, ArcScene and ArcCatalog applications and extensions, including 3D Analyst, Spatial Analyst and a third-party extension called XTools Pro that was developed by Data East, LLC of Russia. Simulated well log data, including formation picks and interpolated surfaces, derived from the Peace River Arch region in northwestern Alberta, are provided to assist with using the manual. Base map data, including rivers, roads, urban areas and a satellite image, are also included as an exercise.


Luiz Amadeu Coutinho

New Contributor III

Hello Luiz,

The link you've provided is no longer available. Would you have a new address or maybe a PDF with the document you recommended? Any new information about this topic you could share?



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Esri Contributor

You might try the 3D Fences Toolbox, free download from ArcGIS Online: http://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=5d0dc58efa144d70a350394d751db227 

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