3D Environmental Data Modelling
3D DATA MODELLING
Over the past 11 years, I have constructed complex environmental data models for a large environmental consulting firm. I wanted to include one of my most challenging and satisfying modelling projects in this portfolio in order to demonstrate the similarities between data modelling and user experience design.
I was tasked to design a conceptual 3D visualization package for part of a presentation to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), with the purpose of demonstrating to the DTSC that our client was not a contributor to the localized VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) contamination. As a direct result of this presentation, the DTSC representatives dismissed their planned presentation, our company assumed consulting oversight for several other sites of our client’s with environmental concerns, and was also awarded additional projects from our client’s attorneys.
A neighbouring property owner believed that our client was responsible for a localized VOC groundwater contamination that had affected his site. Our client needed to demonstrate that his property was not the source of the spill, and that the release had been up gradient of both the sites.
For this project I worked with the internal project team on all elements, meeting weekly, and conducting conference calls and webinars when necessary to keep the project on track. During the course of the project, I was responsible for completing the following tasks:
Compile, Organize and Process Data
Data was provided in many formats and from many sources. It was my job to organize, reformat, and process all data. This includes manual data entry, confirming all analytical units are consistent, that all coordinate system information and elevation datums are identical
Determine an effective method to present the available analytical data and illustrate the Project Manager’s ‘historical up-gradient release’ hypothesis. Discussion with the Project Manager regarding the agenda of his presentation, and developing a script for the five interactive models that would compliment his presentation. Work with members of our Hydrogeologic Evaluation Group to determine a methodology to accurately predict the historical position of the contaminant plume based on most recent data.
Build a visual representation of the site and its subsurface environment that can be easily understood by both technical and non-technical individuals.
Usability Testing and Feedback Sessions
Worked with Project Manager to provide the best product for his presentation, sessions were also conducted to get him familiar with the interactive models and how to navigate and control the models
Project Manager, Project Coordinator, 3D Visualization specialist, Hydrogeologist
In order to construct a detailed 3D image of the site and its subsurface environment, it was required to organize and process existing lithographic and groundwater chemistry data; the site and surrounding area included 34 sample locations.
Coordinates and elevation data was required for each location. As there is no way to precisely pinpoint the elevation from which a groundwater chemistry sample was obtained, so the screen midpoint was used as the sample location. Geologic boring logs were reviewed and soil materials were categorized as having low, medium, or high permeability.
Lack of historical data
Lack of cooperation from neighbouring sites to share data
Disorganized data (multiple sources, inconsistent coordinate systems, manual data entry of analytical results)
Determine a way to demonstrate point of release using available data
In attendance at the presentation to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control were DTSC representatives, the site owner and his legal counsel, as well as the site tenants (our client) and their legal counsel. The presentation needed to provide technical and analytical information, yet remain understandable to those participants who did not have a deep understanding of hydrogeologic environments and contaminant migration.
Achieving this balance and meeting the needs of all professionals at the meeting was essential to the success of the presentation, which was achieved through several conversations with the project manager, and developing the models in a way that would move through a series of visuals to introduce the site and technical information slowly, then expand on the data findings and concepts.
After discussing the project and the team’s objectives, it was clear that finding a way to verify the project manager’s hypothesis that the localized VOC contamination was a result of an up gradient release was the most important element of the modelling project.
This proved to be more difficult than initially thought. Consulting with several engineers and scientists in the office, the best way in which to do this was by using a modification of the BioScreen Natural Attenuation Decision Support System.
This screening model simulates remediation through natural attenuation. It is typically used to determine how long a plume will persist until natural attenuation processed cause it to dissipate, and how far will the dissolved contaminant plume extend if no engineering controls or reduction measures are implemented.
By using current analytical data and a reversed BioScreen methodology, we were able to create a conceptual visualization that was based on solid collected data. Being able to present the images of the plume migration over time, as well as the data and calculations to support the model was key to the success of our project manager and the presentation.
A hydrogeologic model was also created, categorizing the soils by permeability, as it is the most effective way in which to visually display potential migration routes of contaminants through the ground.
Feedback Sessions & Iteration
Several conference calls and webinars were conducted between the modelling team and project team members in order to create a model and presentation that most clearly communicated the scenario our client was trying to convey.
CHANGES AFTER FEEDBACK sessions
Each site highlighted in a different colour, instead of just different coloured property boundaries
Conceptual visualization showing the plume’s size and position at various points over time.
Colours of the geologic model were adjusted to create greater contrast between the three units
For the presentation, a series of 4D Interactive Models (4DIMs) were generated. 4DIMs have long been C Tech’s preeminent 3D publishing standard, and are made up of a series of frames that each present different content and/or views. This interactive tool then allows the User to zoom in/out, scroll, pan and manipulate the model as desired.
The final deliverable was a self-contained Interface package, from which models could be launched. A total of five 4DIMs were developed, highlighting the following aspects of the site:
Current groundwater table, showing regional flow of groundwater
Current VOCs in groundwater plume (based on recently collected analytical data)
Conceptual VOCs in groundwater plume (based on current and historical data/BioScreen calculations)
Following the project manager’s presentation of the models, the DTSC representatives dismissed their planned presentation and agreed with our conclusion that the localized VOC contamination was not the responsibility of our client. After his presentation, our project manager came back with the following comments:
“I gave the presentation to the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) yesterday.
In attendance were DTSC representatives, the Site owner and his legal counsel, and the Site tenants (our client) and their legal counsel (a law firm I do a good amount of work for). Once the presentation was finished, the DTSC representatives dismissed their planned presentation as they could add nothing to ours. The Site owner and his counsel indicated that this was one of the best presentations they had ever been privileged to partake in and the Site owner indicated that he was so impressed, he would like [our company] to assume consulting oversight for several other sites he owns that have environmental concerns. Additionally, our clients and their legal counsel took me to lunch and stated that that was the best presentation they had ever witnessed and that they had been part of a lot of presentations.”
- Eric, project manager
This project taught me how to come up with solutions that push the capabilities of our modelling software, as well as how to find alternative routes to meet the client's needs. At the beginning, it was thought to be a straightforward modelling project, but after talking with the project manager, I realized it was a much more complex request. I had to rethink my approach in order to give the client exactly what he needed. It was a good lesson for how to manage and satisfy unique requests and work within strict constraints.