Western Earthquake Hazards Program

U.S. Geological Survey
Data Series 241
version 1.1

3D Visualization of Earthquake Focal Mechanisms Using ArcScene®

By Keith A. Labay and Peter J. Haeussler


drawing of block of the Earth showing data points by beach-ball symbols


We created a new tool, 3D Focal Mechanisms (3DFM), for viewing earthquake focal mechanism symbols three dimensionally. This tool operates within the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI®) GIS software ArcScene® 9.x. The program requires as input a GIS point dataset of earthquake locations containing strike, dip, and rake values for a nodal plane of each earthquake. Other information, such as depth and magnitude of the earthquake, may also be included in the dataset. By default for each focal point, 3DFM will create a black and white sphere or “beach ball” that is oriented based on the strike, dip, and rake values. If depth values for each earthquake are included, the focal symbol will also be placed at its appropriate location beneath the Earth's surface.

In addition to the default settings, there are several other options in 3DFM that can be adjusted. The appearance of the symbols can be changed by (1) creating rings around the fault planes that are colored based on magnitude, (2) showing only the fault planes instead of a sphere, (3) drawing a flat disc that identifies the primary nodal plane, (4) or by displaying the null, pressure, and tension axes. The size of the symbols can be changed by adjusting their diameter, scaling them based on the magnitude of the earthquake, or scaling them by the estimated size of the rupture patch based on earthquake magnitude. It is also possible to filter the data using any combination of the strike, dip, rake, magnitude, depth, null axis plunge, pressure axis plunge, tension axis plunge, or fault type values of the points. For a large dataset, these filters can be used to create different subsets of symbols. Symbols created by 3DFM are stored in graphics layers that appear in the ArcScene® table of contents. Multiple graphics layers can be created and saved to preserve the output from different symbol options.

Download the text for this report as a 17-page PDF file (ds-241.pdf; 904 KB)

Download the 3DFM files as a .zip archive (3DFocalMechanisms.zip; 280 KB file that opens to a 1.5-MB folder)

For questions about the content of this report, contact Keith Labay

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