Earth Science

GPlates – interactive visualization of plate-tectonics

GPlates is desktop software for the interactive visualization of plate-tectonics.

GPlates offers a novel combination of interactive plate-tectonic reconstructions, geographic information system (GIS) functionality and raster data visualization. GPlates enables both the visualization and the manipulation of plate-tectonic reconstructions and associated data through geological time.

GPlates uses OpenGL to render its 3D globe and 2D map views. It uses Qt as a GUI framework.

Features include:

  • Loading and saving geological, geographic and tectonic feature data:
    • Loading feature data from the following formats:
      • GPML / compressed GPML.
      • Plates4 line-format.
      • ESRI Shapefile (including the ability to map shape attributes in a Shapefile to feature properties in GPlates on a user-specified, per-Shapefile basis).
      • GMAP VGP (Virtual Geomagnetic Pole) data files.
    • Saving feature data in the following formats:
      • GPML / compressed GPML.
      • Plates4 line-format.
      • ESRI Shapefile.
      • GMT “xy” format, with a variety of options for headers.
    • Recording and restoring previous sessions of files opened by the user.
    • Cookie-cutting and assigning plate IDs to loaded data using plate polygons.
  • Loading and saving reconstruction poles (finite rotations which enable geological, geographic and tectonic features to be reconstructed through geological time):
    • Loading reconstruction poles from the following formats:
      • GPML / compressed GPML.
      • Plates4 rotation-format.
    • Saving reconstruction poles in the following formats:
      • GPML / compressed GPML.
      • Plates4 rotation-format.
  • Displaying raster images:
    • Loading multiple raster images in JPEG and NetCDF format, including time-sequences of raster images, to enable visualization of “gridded” geophysical data such as mantle density anomalies, mantle convection-driven dynamic surface topography and the crustal age or spreading rate of the ocean floor — both:
      • Global raster images, which are assumed to cover the whole globe, from -180 to +180 degrees longitude and -90 to +90 latitude, and
      • Smaller rasters with regional georeferencing and potentially projected spatial reference system.
    • Cookie-cutting raster images using static plate polygons.
    • Reconstructing raster images along with vector data.
  • Viewing feature data and raster images in a graphical display:
    • Displaying geological, geographic and tectonic features, as well as raster images, on the globe, in any of the following map-projections:
      • 3-D Orthographic Globe.
      • Rectangular.
      • Mercator.
      • Mollweide.
      • Robinson.
    • Moving and re-orienting the camera (the viewpoint of the user), by “dragging” the mouse on the globe, using the keyboard arrow keys, or specifying the desired viewpoint in a dialog box.
    • Activating a full-screen presentation mode, by pressing F11 to switch to a minimalist interface ideal for demonstrating data and animations on digital projectors.
    • Zooming the camera, using the scroll-wheel of the mouse, the Zoom In tool, or the slider on the right-hand-side of the reconstruction view.
    • Choosing different colouring schemes for vector features and for NetCDF gridded data.
    • Exporting a 2-D geometry snapshot of the current projected contents of the reconstruction view in Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) format, for later viewing in a web-browser or vector-graphics editor such as Adobe Illustrator.
    • Annotating the view with text including the current reconstruction time.
    • Managing loaded data as a series of layers allowing fine control over feature visibility.
  • Calculating and displaying plate-tectonic reconstructions:
    • Reconstructing features to a desired geological time-instant, or animating over a period of geological time.
    • Exporting “reconstructed geometries” (feature geometries at a particular reconstruction time in the past) in the following formats:
      • ESRI Shapefile.
      • GMT “xy” format, with a variety of options for headers.
    • Calculating velocity fields according to plate motions.
    • Displaying flowlines and motion paths visualizing plate motion.
    • Exporting “data animations” — each frame of a reconstruction animation saved automatically to disk in a sequence of files:
      • All reconstructed feature geometries (as GMT .xy files or Shapefiles).
      • A 2-D vector graphics snapshot of the view (as SVG files).
      • A 2-D bitmap image snapshot of the view (as PNG, etc. files).
      • Numerical raster data (as NetCDF, GeoTIFF, etc. files) in rectangular projection.
      • Colour raster data (as PNG, etc. files) in rectangular projection.
      • All velocity fields (as GPML files).
      • Resolved topologies as a sequence of static polygons (as GMT .xy files).
      • Equivalent total and stage rotation data.
      • Flowlines and motion paths.
  • Interacting with features graphically:
    • Choosing a feature, to query or edit its properties, by clicking upon its displayed geometry.
    • Digitisation of new geometries for the creation of new features.
    • Modifying the geometry of a feature interactively by dragging vertices, inserting vertices, deleting vertices, or splitting a feature into two at a given point.
    • Measuring distances, along the geometry of existing features, during digitisation, or between arbitrary user-chosen points on the globe.
    • Cloning features to modify copies of a feature.
  • Tabular display of data:
    • Listing tables of reconstruction poles (finite rotations) for the current reconstruction time:
      • Relative and equivalent rotations for each plate.
      • A tree-like representation of the rotation hierarchy.
      • The circuit between any plate and the stationary reference frame.
    • Listing total reconstruction sequences for loaded rotation files:
      • Displaying metadata associated with GPlates Rotation (GROT) files.
      • Editing total reconstruction poles and inserting new ones.
    • Exporting tables of reconstruction poles in CSV (comma-separated value) format, for later viewing in a spreadsheet such as Microsoft Excel.
    • Listing tables of Shapefile attributes on a per-file basis, with one attribute per column
  • Modifying reconstructions graphically:
    • Manipulation of reconstruction poles by dragging the mouse cursor to move plates, including the ability to constrain the latitude, or constrain to a stage pole, during the interactive adjustment.
  • Interactive plate-boundary closure, enabling GPlates to generate plate-tectonic boundary conditions for geodynamic models in software such as:
    • the widely-used, open-source, spherical mantle-convection package CitComS.
    • the next-generation AuScope-funded mantle-convection package Underworld.
  • A suite of virtual geomagnetic pole tools:
    • create new VGPs.
    • calculate reconstruction poles based on VGPs.
    • configure the visualisation of VGP data.
  • Cross-platform support – runs under Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows.

Support: Documentation
Developer: Developed by an international team of scientists, professional software developers and post graduate students at the EarthByte Project, Division of Geological and Planetary Sciences at CalTech, and Geodynamics Team at the Geological Survey of Norway (NGU), and the Centre for Earth Evolution and Dynamics (CEED) at the University of Oslo
License: GNU General Public License v2.0

GPlates is written in C++. Learn C++ with our recommended free books and free tutorials.

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