Subsurface Characterization with Solid Models


3D model, construction site, geotechnical engineering, triangulated irregular networks


Three‐dimensional computer models of construction sites and subsurface stratigraphy are useful for visualization, analysis, and design in geotechnical engineering. A useful technique for creating such models is the geometric technique known as “solid modeling.” Solid modeling was originally developed in the fields of mechanical and aerospace engineering. In these fields, the shape and complexity of objects is relatively simple and well defined as compared to those of the earth's surface and subsurface. Accordingly, because of the complex nature of the surfaces involved, most available modeling systems are not well suited for modeling earth masses. To overcome this difficulty, a technique employing surfaces in the form of triangulated irregular networks (TINs) and set operations was developed. This technique facilitates the construction of complex three‐dimensional models of earth masses from data that are typically available to geotechnical engineers. These data usually consist of surface‐topographic surveys and borehole logs. Using the technique, a geotechnical engineer can create a three‐dimensional model of a complex site. Complicated excavations can be modeled and cross sections, or “fence” diagrams, can be constructed quickly and easily, anywhere on the model, to display the soil stratigraphy at the site. Volumes of excavations and fills also can be computed easily.

Original Publication Citation

Jones, Norman L. and Stephen G. Wright, "Subsurface characterization with solid models,"ASCE Geotechnical EngineeringJournal., Vol. 119, No. 11, November, 1993, pp. 1823-1839.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date



Journal of Geotechnical Engineering




Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology


Civil and Environmental Engineering

University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor