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graphics/visualisation Peering into the depths

Dr John Hall, a marine geophysicist, has research interests including global tectonics, offshore geophysical surveys, and compilations of detailed gridded topography. Much of Hall’s career was with the Geological Survey of Israel and in the early days he had to work within a prohibition on digitisation of map contours. Using early Surfer software (then running under MS DOS on an IBM PC AT computer and working on ‘piddling little grids with maybe 100 by 100 nodes and 1,000 data points’) he evolved an innovative method of generating a grid for Israel at a 25-metre resolution by the transcription of 1:50,000 topographical sheets.

with two students who used it to model social attitude data; with Voxler, an analysis of military interactions where time replaced the physical x axis, red and blue faction audits the y and z. Soſtware combinations are widespread and

are not limited to single publisher pairings. A study of the role played by the Caucasus in shaping human migrations[3]

deploys Incomparably more powerful current incarnations

of Surfer can compile and krige thousands of digitised soundings. Using these, Hall has created digital terrain models of the Mediterranean, Black Sea, Red Sea, Caspian Sea and a 50,000 square kilometre area near the north pole. In his contribution to the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) Cook Book, he details his use of such software. Recent work includes kriging of 46,000 digitised soundings and other data to produce a grid of the Gulf of Suez for work at the University of California, Santa Cruz, to explore possible seiche standing wave explanations for Moses’ crossing of the Red Sea.

a combination of spatial density maps from Surfer in combination with graphic elements generated by other soſtware. Network trees, interrelation matrices, flow generators, and principal component plots join population structure distance spectra and geospatial scatterplots of linguistic and haplogroup markers. Te other face of graphical visualisation of


stretch from here to Istanbul’) to changing multidimensional relationships (‘drag the pointer to see how HIV infection rate loci shiſt over time’). Well known examples are the Gapminder Foundation (which draws data from a variety of sources and provides links back to them), Te Guardian (which provides its own raw CSV versions of the data sets behind the graphics), and Google Public Data (which allows upload of users’ own data sets for visualisation; the experimental Fusion Tables is another, related,

user data resource) but there are numerous others and the choice is increasing all the time. To dismiss these as froth, as some do, is

data from analytic access is using the same inherent human navigational soſtware to communicate complex information derived from huge data sets quickly, succinctly and meaningfully to others. Such communication lacks the precision of symbolic form, but offers an immediacy and comprehensive gestalt grasp which serial specification can never achieve. It also provides the best way to publish information beyond the immediate expert bubble. A nine-year-old is as able to comprehend the interplay of size and colour of vector arrows on a map of the Atlantic Ocean as a seasoned climate scientist. In a time when public understanding of scientific issues is of increasingly crucial policy importance, that matters a great deal. An expanding field of such mass data

communication goes under the name of ‘infographics’. Tis is an umbrella term covering everything from illustration of a single fact (‘the paper used in this photocopier last year would


a mistake; quite apart from increasing the sophistication and depth of public debate, they supply a growing number of scientists with initial seed corn entry points to potentially

Further information

Gapminder Foundation

The Guardian

Golden Software www.goldensoſ

Google Fusion Tables html#fusiontables

Google Public Data


IBM Many Eyes

A 50,000km² Arctic area bathymetric digital terrain model, constructed in Surfer by Dr John Hall from exploratory bathymetric data collection on the icebreaker Healy

profitable research pathways. One recently funded medical study, for instance, originated in chance cross comparison between infographics from, We Feel Fine, Guardian Data and IBM’s Many Eyes. Trying to see the future is a dangerous

game, particularly in such a fast moving field as scientific computing. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the impact of these interlocked spirals of computer visual communication, specialist and general, is going to abate. In fact, I’d hazard a prediction that they will accelerate over the next few cycles of hardware development. Seen from the future, it may well be viewed as a defining aspect of data analysis in this decade.

References and Sources For a full list of references and sources, visit referencesaug13.php

NOAA Satellite and Information Service Cookbook/index.php




Systat Software

We Feel Fine

Weizmann Institute Plasma Laboratory

@scwmagazine l

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