GPlates Visualizations

GPlates is ‘a plate tectonics program..(used to)..manipulate reconstructions of geological and paleogeographic features through geological time.’

I’ve looked at (and used) GPlates on and off over the years – it’s definitely the kind of software you need to spend some time getting your head around, as it is deep and complex, with very technical use-cases. However, as there is more and more convergence between Earth science visualization approaches and the XR work I’m interested in doing using modern game engines, it is very timely to have the opportunity to attend an online GPlates workshop – generously hosted by the University of Sydney with a group of excellent presenters.

I’ll add a few notes to this page as I go along – it’s just an informal brain-dump about what I learn and how I think the software could be deployed within a variety of visualization scenarios I’m interested in exploring. I’ll post a few test animations too.

GPlates Animation Test 001 – a southern polar view of the Earth, from 410Ma to 0Ma, with calculated velocity fields for individual tectonic regions. It’s slow at first, but the supercontinent Gondwana begins to break up around 180Ma (1:16 in the movie). I’ve added a bit of post to make it a bit more stylised, as there is a lot of detail in some of the topographical data that is not strictly useful and subject to aliasing in animation.

An important thing to note in the animation above is that current day topographic imagery is being overlaid on distant-past plate localities – which is obviously misleading (but useful for the modern day observer to orientate themselves). Something I’d like to explore is how to create topographic maps with colours and elevations that change over time, in response to tectonic movements and climatological changes. Perhaps there is paleoclimatic data that can be used to drive procedural approximations, or perhaps I could train a GAN to produce impressionistic maps for visualisation purposes. Lots to think about.

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