Virtual field mapping of Earth

CRUSTA: Virtual field mapping of Earth and other planets

Crusta is a virtual globe developed by a computer science graduate student working closely with students in geology who defined the needs, tested the code, and suggested additional features. Crusta combines:

  1. representation of global, high-resolution surface data,
  2. visualization of these data on a real-time virtual globe,
  3. efficient exploration and annotation using real-time interactive software tools.

Using Crusta, a student researcher can easily import sub-meter resolution DEM or imagery for arbitrary locations on the globe. Dynamic manipulation of the visualization (illumination, vertical exaggeration, color mapping, iso-lines) support explorative discovery of key surface features and a clear understanding of their three-dimensional embedding. Features can be directly mapped on the virtual landscape. This capability greatly improves the confidence and localization of mapped features.

Download & User Guides

Crusta is still being actively developed with constant changes to the feature-set and the robustness of the implementations. To keep up to date, we recommend you get involved!


Get involved with Crusta! There are currently three primary parts to doing so:

Research Using Crusta


HaitimapCrusta was critical to the success of the Haiti Earthquake Team. It enabled the students to identify and label the fault and other geologic features. It has been used by student researchers to investigate settings where it would be difficult to impossible to travel, for logistical or safety reasons.

In the study of the earthquake in Baja-California students were able to visually investigate the high-resolution (~3cm/pixel) topography model from their own terrestrial LiDAR scans in the context aerial and orbital data.

Mars Mission Planing

Crusta has been used to investigate potential landing sites for the next Mars rover.



  • Bernardin et al., “Crusta: A new virtual globe for real-time visualization of sub-meter digital topography at planetary scales,” Computers & Geosciences Volume 37, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 75-85 Virtual Globes in Science
  • Bernardin et al., “Annotating Terrain Using an Adhesive Tape Metaphor,” in submission, IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics


  • Bernardin et al., “Mapping the El Mayor-Cucapah earthquake rupture using Crusta, a new virtual globe for remote field studies,” Abstract EP44B-02 presented at Fall Meeting, AGU, San Francisco, Calif., 13-17 Dec., 2010
  • Bernardin et al., “Crusta: A new virtual globe enabling remote geologic mapping,” in Abstracts with Programs, ser. Virtual Tectonics (Session 172), vol. 42, no. 5. Geological Society of America, 2010, p. 421
  • Bernardin et al., “Crusta: Visualizing high-resolution global data,” in EOS Transactions AGU, ser. Fall Meeting Supplemental, vol. 90, no. 52, 2009, pp. Abstract IN33A–1023



  • Dawn Sumner, Professor
  • Eric Cowgill, Professor
  • Michael Oskin, Professor
  • Louise Kellogg, Professor
  • M. Burak Yıkılmaz, Researcher
  • Peter Gold, Former Graduate Student
  • Adam Forte, Postdoc, Former Graduate Student
  • Austin Elliot, Former Graduate Student
  • Tracy Compton, Former Graduate Student

Computer Scientists

  • Tony Bernardin, Postdoc, Former Graduate Student
  • Braden Pellett, Specialist
  • Oliver Kreylos, Researcher
  • Bernd Hamann, Professor