Last updateFri, 05 Jun 2020 6am

Making life near volcanoes safer with paper-based 3D printing

"2D hazard maps can show people where the danger is, but a 3D printed model can show them why", Ian Saginor, Volcanologist, Geological Society of America & Associate Professor, Keystone College

Hundreds of millions of people around the world live, work and play near active volcanoes and are at serious risk from the potentially catastrophic landslides, mudflows and tsunamis associated with volcanic activity, not to mention the volcanic eruptions themselves.

Protecting the public is as much about low-tech solutions, such as education and outreach, as it is about collecting and analysing data from the volcano. That's why volcanologist, Ian Saginor, strives to educate public officials and the public in general about the hazards of living near active volcanoes in order to increase their understanding and convince them to take the appropriate precautions. Saginor's goal is to make life near volcanoes as safe as possible.

With a background in the geochemical evolution of volcanoes, Saginor passionately began researching and teaching about volcanic hazards. To this end, he used flat, 2D hazard maps and photos in an attempt to communicate the potential dangers presented by active volcanoes in different regions and influence public policy. Yet, while hazard maps are easily understood by geoscientists, Saginor realised that they aren't terribly effective at capturing the attention of, or imparting understanding to, the public.

Enter 3D printing. Saginor saw the technology in use at Keystone College, La Plume, PA, where he is Associate Professor and Honors Program Director. He became convinced that 3D printed hazard map models would be a far more effective means to convey volcanic threats than the 2D versions or even digital 3D models. "There's an unmet need in geosciences to use 3D printing," says Saginor. "Two-dimensional hazard maps can show people where the danger is, but a 3D printed model can show them why." Kevin Troop of Brandywine Printing, an Mcor Technologies Certified Reseller, offered to 3D print the models for Saginor.

Saginor obtains the digital data required for 3D printing from US Geological Survey data and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) data, which uses lasers to measure variable distances to the earth to obtain precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of the Earth and surface characteristics. Thus far, working with Brandywine, Saginor has created 5 in2 (12.7 cm2) square by 1/8 in2 (.32 cm2) thick 3D printed topographical models of Poás, a very active volcano near the Costa Rican capital of San José, as well as volcanoes Turrialba and Irazu, also located in Costa Rica.

The models were 3D printed in photoreastic colour on an Mcor 3D printer, the world's only true, full high-definition-colour, paper-based 3D printer and the most affordable, safest and eco-friendly 3D printer. The Mcor IRIS creates complex, durable and stable physical 3D models from paper at 10-20% the cost of any other 3D printing technology and they can even be disposed of in the recycling bin for cradle-to-grave sustainability. The only one to include the global-standard ICC (International Colour Consortium) colour map, Mcor 3D printers produce the industry's most accurate and photorealistic WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) colour.

Photorealistic colour 3D printed models illustrate terrain, topography, manmade structures and more, far more effectively than flat maps or images. For example, you can 3D print lava and ash flow in valleys to better convey how they will channel directly toward a proposed resort or residential development. Saginor is only just beginning to tap into the potential of the full-colour 3D printed models. For example, when he created his initial digital models, he designed in the shadows of the terrain. Yet, when the model was 3D printed, he realised that the shadows are inherent to the geometry of the terrain in the model and therefore, there's no need to design shading or shadowing into the digital model, it's there naturally.

In collaboration with colleagues at Oregon State College, Saginor is comparing and quantifying the effectiveness a 2D map, a 3D digital image and a full-colour 3D printed model have on people's understanding and perceptions of volcanic hazards. In the study, 3D printed volcano models were used to educate elementary school students about the volcanic hazards of Turrialba. The models replicated the lahars and ash fall influence areas that were predicted by LANAMME (National Laboratory of Materials and Structural Models, Costa Rica, in preparation) and Soto (2012). Both geological concepts, along with basic notions of volcanology, were explained to students and teachers of the Hernán Vargas Ramírez elementary school in Juan Viñas, Turrialba. The models functioned as visual support for the lesson and were compared with regular 2D maps and digital 3D models to convey the spatial location of the town in the context of the volcanic threat. Following the presentation, participants completed an in-depth survey. The results indicated that indeed, 3D printed volcanic models are the most effective method of educating people about volcanic hazards and should be included in teacher training programs, such as the one carried out by OVSICORI (Observatorio Vulcanológico y Sismológico Costarricense). Despite the fact that 27% of those surveyed had heard of 3D printing prior to the event, 100% of them felt that it was easier to find their location on the 3D printed model than on the flat map and 95% said that if they had a model to take home, they could explain what they learned to their families.

Saginor also brought 3D printed volcano models to Costa Rica where he gave a presentation to students, the public and public officials. With a goal to have 100-200 3D printed volcano models per year, Saginor and his colleagues are planning many more trips. Says Saginor, "There's unmatched value in holding a realistic model in your hands. I'll print as many as I can possibly get in order to effect change."



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