We report on a project aimed at developing emergent animated COLLADA (collaborative design activity) models of the Tonga-Samoa region of the western Pacific for teaching and outreach use with Google Earth. This is an area of historical importance to the development of plate tectonic theory and is important today owing to neotectonic activity, including a 29 September 2009 tsunamigenic earthquake. We created three types of models: an emergent digital elevation model of the Tonga slab with associated magmatic arc and backarc basin based on GeoMapApp (Marine Geoscience Data System, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory) data mining; animated models of alternative plate tectonic scenarios; and a large-scale model that permits users to view the subsurface down to lower mantle levels. Our models have been deployed in non–science major laboratory classes, and positive learning outcomes were documented in an independent study by S. Wild and J. Gobert. The models have also been made available to colleagues and the public via the Old Dominion University Pretlow Planetarium and an outreach and dissemination website (http://www.digitalplanet.org). In the process of constructing a complete set of tectonic models for the area of interest, we added cases that have not been described in the research literature. Thus, this study spans the three functions of modern academia, i.e., research, teaching, and outreach, and the multifaceted aspects of creating, using, testing, and disseminating electronic geospatial learning resources.

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