Science Spotlight: Vertex Environmental

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About Vertex Environmental

In 2003, Vertex Environmental was founded as a remediation contracting firm based in Ontario, Canada. Vertex started and continues to be an active and successful remediation contractor based in southwestern Ontario, Canada. However, since 2010/2011, Vertex decided to invest in some interesting and high tech tooling to better service our clients across Canada and internationally. These tools, Membrane Interface Probe (MIP), Hydraulic Profiling Tool (HPT), and Laser-Induced Fluorescence (LIF) probe, allowed for high quantity and quality data capture for environmental delineation, which we call High-Resolution Site Characterization (HRSC) tools. I, Patrick O’Neill, was asked to operate/lead the HRSC division of Vertex and showcase the benefits of these technologies to our clients and how best to display these results in 3D. We have detailed descriptions of these tools and how they operate here. One of the off-road vehicles we use to deploy the tools to collect the data is shown below in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Vertex Off-Road HRSC All-Terrain Vehicle

My History with 3D Visualization

My background with 3D visualization started in high school and university when I was very interested in using GIS software with large data sets, computer programming, and environmental engineering studies. All of these studies seemed to culminate at the academic level during my Master’s studies at the University of Waterloo. They continued in 2010/2011 at the professional level when Vertex brought the HRSC tools into Canada for operations.

Since we don’t have X-Ray vision and can’t see into the subsurface, technology that allows for real-time measurements of multiple parameters underneath the ground and being able to show these results in fully interactive 3D visualizations rapidly for clients becomes very interesting and powerful.

How 3D Visualizations are Done

The HRSC tools can provide a large data set very quickly, and its ability to convey this data to clients in an easily digestible manner became very evident early on in the process. This data acquisition method led to Vertex using C Tech’s Earth Volumetric Studio (EVS) software for visualization of these HRSC data sets quickly and accurately. The software is very powerful and provides many different avenues for displaying and conveying the data collected on-site; one such avenue is Sketchfab. Sketchfab has allowed Vertex to display the EVS 3D visualizations in a detailed and interactive manner that clients can understand and relate to quickly.

After all of the data is captured in the field and downloaded to the server, it’s up to me and my team to sift through the data and ensure any false positives are identified and removed from the 3D visualization rendering process. Typically, after the data is rendered and in 3D using EVS and the client is happy with the visualizations, they will be printed in PDF format for their specific report. However, in some instances, an interactive visualization is required as part of the deliverables, and EVS makes it very easy to export to Sketchfab, which is where we post some of our more interesting visualizations.

We have created many visualizations of the HRSC data. However, one of my favourite 3D visualizations that we have completed and uploaded to Sketchfab can be seen here:

The model above depicts data captured from the MIP probe; we were able to visualize the groundwater plume from the source and downgradient. This particular visualization has half of the plume “cut out” to allow the user to see the interior of the plume and the areas of higher responses (in red) vs. lower responses (in green). The higher responses would indicate more contaminant impacts detected in the subsurface. The footprint at the base of the visualization is a 2D projection of the maximum results at each location, showing the user where the higher responses are located on-site.

Another favourite Sketchfab rendering that we recently completed is here:

This rendering depicts data collected from the LIF probe on a rural site. This data indicates where the smaller pockets of higher impacts are located (in red) in the subsurface versus where the widespread lower-level impacts are distributed (in green).

The Future of 3D in the Environmental Industry

I see interactive 3D visualizations/models in the environmental industry to be a key differentiator for anyone utilizing it intelligently and effectively. Clients can understand the magnitude of the information being displayed very quickly and how it changes spatially across their site. In the environmental industry, Conceptual Site Models (CSMs) are used for understanding the site using many data sources and inputs. Incorporating these types of 3D visualizations, where multiple data streams can be visualized and realized in an interactive space, will be very powerful moving forward in the environmental industry.


About the author

Patrick O'Neill

HRSC division leader at Vertex Environmental

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