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Geologic maps and cross-sections effectively summarize the structural geology of a region, but they can be difficult for non-geologists to interpret. Textbooks and interpretive guides commonly integrate maps and cross-sections into static perspective block diagrams to help novices visualize basic concepts in geology. The inherent power of block diagrams, however, is dramatically increased by software such as Google SketchUp, a free downloadable program, which can create interactive 3-D models of a region. The stand-alone models can be Rotated, Panned, and Zoomed by the user and exported for animations. An efficient way to create block diagrams is to combine the individual strengths of dedicated GIS software with SketchUp, and merge the results into a single 3-D model.

Effective 3-D block diagrams drape a geologic map on a digital elevation model and show how the map and cross-sections connect at the topographic surface. Creating block diagrams in such a way that portions of the map between cross-section planes are independent segments gives the user flexibility to make portions of the map invisible. By “turning off” parts of the surface, it is possible to sequentially reveal multiple cross-sections. 3-D block diagrams help students and non-specialists visualize geologic structures. Once created, the 3-D block diagrams can be quickly edited by substituting alternate images of geologic maps and cross-sections. Thus they provide an elegant approach for comparing different interpretations of a region. Combined with tools available in SketchUp, they also provide geologists with a valuable resource for assessing the geometric plausibility of geologic cross-sections.

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