Building Interactive Visualizations for Geochronological Data

Thursday, 18 December 2014
John Zeringue1, James F Bowring1, Noah Morgan McLean2 and Florent Pastor3, (1)College of Charleston, Charleston, SC, United States, (2)University of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, United States, (3)University of La Rochelle, La Rochelle, France
Since the early 1990s, Ken Ludwig’s Isoplot software has been the tool of choice for visualization and analysis of isotopic data used for geochronology. The software is an add-in to Microsoft Excel that allows users to generate visual representations of data. However, recent changes to Excel have made Isoplot more difficult to use and maintain, and the software is no longer supported.

In the last several years, the Cyber Infrastructure Research and Development Lab for the Earth Sciences (CIRDLES), at the College of Charleston, has worked collaboratively with geochronologists to develop U-Pb_Redux, a software product that provides some of Isoplot’s functionality for U-Pb geochronology. However, the community needs a full and complete Isoplot replacement that is open source, platform independent, and not dependent on proprietary software.

This temporary lapse in tooling also presents a tremendous opportunity for scientific computing in the earth sciences. When Isoplot was written for Excel, it gained much of the platform’s flexibility and power but also was burdened with its limitations. For example, Isoplot could not be used outside of Excel, could not be cross-platform (so long as Excel wasn’t), could not be embedded in other applications, and only static images could be produced. Nonetheless this software was and still is a powerful tool that has served the community for more than two decades and the trade-offs were more than acceptable.

In 2014, we seek to gain flexibility not available with Excel. We propose that the next generation of charting software be reusable, platform-agnostic, and interactive. This new software should allow scientists to easily explore—not just passively view—their data.

Beginning in the fall of 2013, researchers at CIRDLES began planning for and prototyping a 21st-century replacement for Isoplot, which we call Topsoil, an anagram of Isoplot. This work is being conducted in the public domain at We welcome and encourage community participation and contributions.