Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Computer Science

First Advisor

Dr. G. Scott Owen - Co-Chair

Second Advisor

Dr. Ying Zhu - Co-Chair

Third Advisor

Dr. Yichuan Zhao

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Yi Pan


The dissertation develops a framework for the visualization of dynamic terrains for use in interactive real-time 3D systems. Terrain visualization techniques may be classified as either static or dynamic. Static terrain solutions simulate rigid surface types exclusively; whereas dynamic solutions can also represent non-rigid surfaces. Systems that employ a static terrain approach lack realism due to their rigid nature. Disregarding the accurate representation of terrain surface interaction is rationalized because of the inherent difficulties associated with providing runtime dynamism. Nonetheless, dynamic terrain systems are a more correct solution because they allow the terrain database to be modified at run-time for the purpose of deforming the surface. Many established techniques in terrain visualization rely on invalid assumptions and weak computational models that hinder the use of dynamic terrain. Moreover, many existing techniques do not exploit the capabilities offered by current computer hardware. In this research, we present a component framework for terrain visualization that is useful in research, entertainment, and simulation systems. In addition, we present a novel method for deforming the terrain that can be used in real-time, interactive systems. The development of a component framework unifies disparate works under a single architecture. The high-level nature of the framework makes it flexible and adaptable for developing a variety of systems, independent of the static or dynamic nature of the solution. Currently, there are only a handful of documented deformation techniques and, in particular, none make explicit use of graphics hardware. The approach developed by this research offloads extra work to the graphics processing unit; in an effort to alleviate the overhead associated with deforming the terrain. Off-road ground vehicle simulation is used as an application domain to demonstrate the practical nature of the framework and the deformation technique. In order to realistically simulate terrain surface interactivity with the vehicle, the solution balances visual fidelity and speed. Accurately depicting terrain surface interactivity in off-road ground vehicle simulations improves visual realism; thereby, increasing the significance and worth of the application. Systems in academia, government, and commercial institutes can make use of the research findings to achieve the real-time display of interactive terrain surfaces.