Visualizing earthquakes with 3D printing

During the wee hours of August 24th, Doug McCune was jarred awake by the rumblings of a 6.0-magnitude earthquake. This was the largest earthquake to hit the Bay Area area in nearly a quarter of a century.


After an initial safety check on the web, McCune stumbled upon the data provided by the USGS about the early morning tectonic shift. With his experience working at disaster imaging startup SpatialKey, the Maker set out to visually demonstrate this data with 3D printing.

“I was curious to understand how the shaking that woke me up compared to the larger earthquakes that hit San Francisco in 1989 and 1906.” He compiled data from all three events and believed, “that getting 3D prints of all three to look at side by side would be a good way for me to understand how the earthquakes differed,” McCune tells


Using the Peak Ground Velocity (PGV) of the impacted areas, the Maker began rendering data to fill 3D models. McCune breaks down his process saying, “The workflow involves grabbing the source data from USGS, which is polygons showing how intense the shaking was at different points on the map, then processing that data with GIS software, and finally running it through my own software to convert it to a 3D model, based on that shaking intensity.”

In true Maker form, McCune then headed for his garage where his trusty 3D printer lie. He produced nine panels that represented the data points of each tectonic event. Once mounted, the data demonstrations looked more like modern art than comparisons of natural disasters. Apparently, others thought so too. Though still a work in progress, McCune plans on showcasing his work at the Diode Gallery for Electronic Art early next year.


From building cars and castles, a growing number of Makers are turning to AVR XMEGAmegaAVR and SAM3X8E MCU-powered printers to bring their ideas to life. What 3D-printed creation will the Maker community think of next?

The Maker has made his conversion software available on GitHub and you can test it out for yourself here. For more information about Doug’s visualizations, feel free to read more on his informative blog.

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