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GPlates – Building a Virtual Earth Through Deep Time

Müller, R. Dietmar and Cannon, John and Qin, Xiaodong and Watson, Robin J. and Gurnis, Michael and Williams, Simon and Pfaffelmoser, Tobias and Seton, Maria and Russell, Samuel H. J. and Zahirovic, Sabin (2018) GPlates – Building a Virtual Earth Through Deep Time. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 19 (7). pp. 2243-2261. ISSN 1525-2027. doi:10.1029/2018GC007584.

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GPlates is an open‐source, cross‐platform plate tectonic geographic information system, enabling the interactive manipulation of plate‐tectonic reconstructions and the visualization of geodata through geological time. GPlates allows the building of topological plate models representing the mosaic of evolving plate boundary networks through time, useful for computing plate velocity fields as surface boundary conditions for mantle convection models and for investigating physical and chemical exchanges of material between the surface and the deep Earth along tectonic plate boundaries. The ability of GPlates to visualize subsurface 3‐D scalar fields together with traditional geological surface data enables researchers to analyze their relationships through geological time in a common plate tectonic reference frame. To achieve this, a hierarchical cube map framework is used for rendering reconstructed surface raster data to support the rendering of subsurface 3‐D scalar fields using graphics‐hardware‐accelerated ray‐tracing techniques. GPlates enables the construction of plate deformation zones—regions combining extension, compression, and shearing that accommodate the relative motion between rigid blocks. Users can explore how strain rates, stretching/shortening factors, and crustal thickness evolve through space and time and interactively update the kinematics associated with deformation. Where data sets described by geometries (points, lines, or polygons) fall within deformation regions, the deformation can be applied to these geometries. Together, these tools allow users to build virtual Earth models that quantitatively describe continental assembly, fragmentation and dispersal and are interoperable with many other mapping and modeling tools, enabling applications in tectonics, geodynamics, basin evolution, orogenesis, deep Earth resource exploration, paleobiology, paleoceanography, and paleoclimate.

Item Type:Article
Related URLs:
URLURL TypeDescription
Müller, R. Dietmar0000-0002-3334-5764
Cannon, John0000-0003-4749-5605
Qin, Xiaodong0000-0002-6314-9879
Gurnis, Michael0000-0003-1704-597X
Williams, Simon0000-0003-4670-8883
Seton, Maria0000-0001-8541-1367
Zahirovic, Sabin0000-0002-6751-4976
Additional Information:© 2018 American Geophysical Union. Received 30 MAR 2018; Accepted 2 JUN 2018; Accepted article online 21 JUN 2018; Published online 12 JUL 2018. This research was supported by the AuScope National Collaborative Research Infrastructure System (NCRIS) program and the Australian Research Council (ARC) ITRP grant IH130200012. M.S. was supported by ARC grant FT130101564 and R.J.W. by the Research Council of Norway through its Centres of Excellence funding scheme, project 223272. We thank Juraj Cirbus for his contributions to the hellinger workflow tool. GPlates software, documentation, and tutorials are available at, and a number of published plate models are available at‐plate‐models. We thank two anonymous reviewers and the associate editor who helped with improving some key aspects of the manuscript.
Group:Seismological Laboratory
Funding AgencyGrant Number
AuScope National Collaborative Research Infrastructure System (NCRIS)UNSPECIFIED
Australian Research CouncilIH130200012
Australian Research CouncilFT130101564
Research Council of Norway223272
Subject Keywords:plate tectonics; virtual globe; plate deformation; paleogeography; geodynamics; Geographic Information System
Issue or Number:7
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20180621-073120885
Persistent URL:
Official Citation:Müller, R. D., Cannon, J., Qin, X., Watson, R. J., Gurnis, M., Williams, S., et al. (2018). GPlates: Building a virtual Earth through deep time. Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems, 19, 2243–2261.
Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:87293
Deposited By: Tony Diaz
Deposited On:21 Jun 2018 16:04
Last Modified:15 Nov 2021 20:46

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