Upcoming book: 52 things you should know about Geocomputing

I am very excited to write that, after a successful second attempt at collecting enough essays, the book 52 Things You Should Know About Geocomputing, by Agile Libre, is very likely to become a reality.

*** July 2020 UPDATE ***

This project got a much needed boost during the hackathon at the 2020 Transform virtual event. Watch the video recording on the group YouTube channel here.


In one of the three chapter I submitted for this book, Prototype colourmaps for fault interpretation, I talk about building a widget for interactive generation of grayscale colourmaps with sigmoid lightness. The whole process is well described in the chapter and showcased in the accompanying GitHub repo.

This post is an opportunity for me to reflect on how revisiting old projects is very important. Indeed, I consider it an essential part of how I approach scientific computing, and a practical way to incorporate new insights, and changes (hopefully betterments) in your coding abilities.

In the fist version of the Jupyter notebook, submitted in 2017, all the calculations and all the plotting commands where packed inside a single monster function that was passed to ipywidgets.interact. Quite frankly, as time passed this approach seemed less and less Phytonic (aka mature) and no longer representative of my programming skills and style, and increased understanding of widget objects.

After a significant hiatus (2 years) I restructured the whole project in several ways:
– Converted Python 2 code to Python 3
– Created separate helper functions for each calculation and moved them to the top to improve on both clarity and reusability of the code.
– Improved and standardized function docstrings
– Optimized and reduced the number of parameters
– Switched from interact to interactive to enable access to the colormaparray in later cells (for printing, further plotting, and exporting).

The new notebook is here.

In a different chapter in the book I talk at more length about the need to Keep on improving your geocomputing projects.


How to fix rainbows and other bad colormaps using Python

Yep, colormaps again!

In my 2014 tutorial on The Leading Edge I showed how to Evaluate and compare colormaps (Jupyter notebook here). The article followed an extended series of posts (The rainbow is dead…long live the rainbow!) and then some more articles on rainbow-like colormap artifacts (for example here and here).

Last year, in a post titled Unweaving the rainbow, Matt Hall described our joint attempt to make a Python tool for recovering digital data from scientific images (and seismic sections in particular), without any prior knowledge of the colormap. Please check our GitHub repository for the code and slides, and watch Matt’s talk (very insightful and very entertaining) from the 2017 Calgary Geoconvention below:

One way to use the app is to get an image with unknown, possibly awful colormap, get the data, and re-plot it with a good one.

Matt followed up on colormaps with a more recent post titled No more rainbows! where he relentlessly demonstrates the superiority of perceptual colormaps for subsurface data. Check his wonderful Jupyter notebook.

So it might come as a surprise to some, but this post is a lifesaver for those that really do like rainbow-like colormaps. I discuss a Python method to equalize colormaps so as to render them perceptual.  The method is based in part on ideas from Peter Kovesi’s must-read paper – Good Colour Maps: How to Design Them – and the Matlab function equalisecolormap, and in part on ideas from some old experiments of mine, described here, and a Matlab prototype code (more details in the notebook for this post).

Let’s get started. Below is a time structure map for a horizon in the Penobscot 3D survey (offshore Nova Scotia, licensed CC-BY-SA by dGB Earth Sciences and The Government of Nova Scotia). Can you clearly identify the discontinuities in the southern portion of the map? No?


OK, let me help you. Below I am showing the map resulting from running a Sobel filter on the horizon. Penobscop_sobel

This is much better, right? But the truth is that the discontinuities are right there in the original data; some, however, are very hard to see because of the colormap used (nipy spectral, one of the many Matplotlib cmaps),  which introduces perceptual artifacts, most notably in the green-to-cyan portion.

In the figure below, in the first panel (from the top) I show a plot of the colormap’s Lightness value (obtained converting a 256-sample nipy spectral colormap from RGB to Lab) for each sample; the line is coloured by the original RGB colour. This erratic Lightness profile highlights the issue with this colormap: the curve gradient changes magnitude several times, indicating a nonuniform perceptual distance between samples.

In the second panel, I show a plot of the cumulative sample-to-sample Lightness contrast differences, again coloured by the original RGB colours in the colormap. This is the best plot to look at because flat spots in the cumulative curve correspond to perceptual flat spots in the map, which is where the discontinuities become hard to see. Notice how the green-to-cyan portion of this curve is virtually horizontal!

That’s it, it is simply a matter of very low, artificially induced perceptual contrast.

Solutions to this problem: the obvious one is to Other NOT use this type of colormaps (you can learn much about which are good perceptually, and which are not, in here); a possible alternative is to fix them. This can be done by re-sampling the cumulative curve so as to give it constant slope (or constant perceptual contrast). The irregularly spaced dots at the bottom (in the same second panel) show the re-sampling locations, which are much farther apart in the perceptually flat areas and much closer in the more dipping areas.

The third panel shows the resulting constant (and regularly sampled) cumulative Lightness contrast differences, and the forth and last the final Lightness profile which is now composed of segments with equal Lightness gradient (in absolute value).

equalization_pictorialHere is the structure map for the Penobscot horizon using the nipy spectum before and after equalization on top of each other, to facilitate comparison. I think this method works rather well, and it will allow continued use of their favourite rainbow and rainbow-like colormaps by hard core aficionados.



If you want the code to try the equalization, get the noteboook on GitHub.

New rainbow colormap: sawthoot-shaped lightness profile

Why another rainbow

In the comment section of my last post Steve Eddins from Mathworks reported that some Matlab users prefer Jet to Parula, the new default perceptual colormap in Matlab, because within certain ranges Jet affords a greater contrast, intended as the rate of change in lightness.

My counter-argument to that is that yes, some data may benefit from being displayed using Jet (in terms of contrast, and hence the power to resolve smaller anomalies) because of those areas of very steep rate of change of lightness, like the blue to cyan and yellow to red portions (see Figure 1). But the price one has to pay is that there is an area of very low gradient (a greenish band between cyan and yellow) where there’s nearly no contrast, which would obfuscate subtle anomalies in the data. On top of that there’s no control of where each of those areas are located, so a lot of effort has to go into trying to fit those regions of artificially high contrast to the portion of data of interest.


Figure 1

Because of their high lightness, the yellow and cyan artificial edges also cause problems. In his latest blog post Steve uses a test pattern do demonstrate how they make the interpretation of trivial structures more difficult. He also explains why they occurr in some locations and not others in the first place. I wonder if the resulting regions of high lightness juxtaposed to regions of low lightness could be chromatic Mach bands.

Additionally, as Steve points out, the low-contrast juxtaposition of dark red and dark blue bands creates the visual illusion of depth (Chromostereopsis) in other positions of the test pattern, creating further confusion.

But I have some good news for the hardcore fans of Jet, and rainbow colormaps in general. I created a rainbow with a sawtooth-shaped lightness profile made up of 5 ramps, each with the same  rate of change in lightness and total lightness change of 60, and alternatively negative and positive signs. This is shown in Figure 2, and replaces the lightness profile of a basic 6-color rainbow (magenta-blue-cyan-green-yellow-red) shown in Figure 3.

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 2

Figure 3

With this rainbow users have the ability to apply greater contrast to their data to boost small anomalies, but in a more controlled way. The colormap is available with my File Exchange function, Perceptually improved colormaps. Below is the Matlab code I used to generate the new rainbow.

Matlab code

To run this code you will need Colorspace, a free function from Matlab File Exchange, for the color space transformations.

%% basic 6-colour rainbow
% create RGB components
m = [1, 0, 1]; % magenta
b = [0, 0, 1]; % blue
c = [0, 1, 1]; % cyan
g = [0, 1, 0]; % green
y = [1, 1, 0]; % yellow
r = [1, 0, 0]; % red
% concatenate components
rgb = vertcat(m,b,c,g,y,r);
% interpolate to 256 colours
rainbow=interp1(linspace(1, 256, 6),rgb,[1:1:256]);
%% calculate Lab components
% convert from RGB to Lab colour space
% requires this function: Colorspace transforamtions
% www.mathworks.com/matlabcentral/fileexchange/28790-colorspace-transformations
lab = colorspace('RGB->Lab',rainbow);
%% replace random lightness profile with sawtooth-shaped profile
% contrast (magnitude of lightness change) between
% each pair of adjeacent colors set to 60
L1 = [90, 30, 90, 30, 90, 30];
% interpolate to 256 lightness values
L1int = interp1(linspace(1, 256, 6),L1,[1:1:256])';
% replace
lab1 = horzcat(L1int,lab(:,2),lab(:,3));
%% new rainbow
% convert back from Lab to RGB colour space
swtth = colorspace('RGB<-Lab',lab1);

Test results

Figures 4, 5, and 6 show the three colormaps used with my Pyramid test surface (notice in Figure 5 that the green band artifact with this rainbow is even more pronounced than with jet). I welcome feedback.

Figure 4

Figure 4


Figure 5

Figure 4

Figure 6


The coloured lightness profiles were made using the Colormapline submission from the Matlab File Exchange.


Visualizing colormap artifacts

In Evaluate and compare colormaps, I have shown how to extract and display the lightness profile of a colormap using Python. I do this routinely with colormaps, but I realize it takes an effort, and not all users may feel comfortable using code to test whether a colormap is perceptual or not.

This got me thinking that there is perhaps a need for a user-friendly, interactive tool to help identify colormap artifacts, and wondering how it would look like.

In a previous post, Comparing color palettes, I plotted the elevation for the South American continent from the Global Land One-km Base Elevation Project using four different color palettes. In Figure 1 below I plot again 3 of those: rainbow, linear lightness rainbow, and grayscale, respectively, from left to right. In maps like these some artifacts are very evident. For example there’s a classic film negative effect in the map on the left, where the Guiana Highlands and the Brazilian Highlands, both in blue, seem to stand lower than the Amazon basin, in violet. This is due to the much lower lightness (or alternatively intensity) of the colour blue compared to the violet.


Figure 1


However, other artifacts are more subtle, like the inversion of the highest peaks in the Andes, which are coloured in red, relative to their surroundings, in particular the Altipiano, an endorheic basin that includes Lake Titicaca.

My idea for this tool is simple, and consists of two windows. The first is a basemap window which can display either a demo dataset or user data loaded from an ASCII grid file. In this window the user would interactively select a profile by building a polyline with point-and-click, like the one in Figure 2 in white.


Figure 2

The second window would show the elevation profile with the colour fill assigned based on the colormap, like in Figure 3 at the bottom (with colormap to the right), and with a profile of the corresponding colour intensities (on a scale 1-255) at the top.

In this view it is immediately evident that, for example, the two highest peaks near the center, coloured in red, are relative intensity lows. Another anomaly is the absolute intensity low on the right side, corresponding to the colour blue, where the elevation profile varies smoothly.

Figure 3

Figure 3

I created this concept prototype using a combination of Matlab, Python, and Surfer. I welcome suggestions for possible additional features, and would like to hear form folks interested in collaboration on a web app (ideally in Python).

What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking” – part 2

In What your brain does with colours when you are not “looking”, part 1, I displayed some audio spectrogram data (courtesy of Giuliano Bernardi at the University of Leuven) using 5 different colormaps to render the amplitude values: Jet (until recently Matlab’s standard colormap), grayscale, linear lightness rainbow, modified heated body, and cube lightness rainbow. I then asked readers to cast a vote for what they thought was the best colormap to visualize this dataset.

I was curious to see how all these colormaps fared, but my expectation was that Jet would sink to the bottom.  I was really surprised to see it came on top, one vote ahead of the linear lightness rainbow (21 and 20 votes out of 62, respectively). The modified heated body followed with 11 votes.

My surprise comes from the fact that Jet carries perceptual artifacts within the progression of colours (see for example this post). One way to demonstrate these artifacts is to convert the 2D map into a 3D surface where again we use Jet to colour amplitude values, but we use the intensities from the 2D map for the elevation. This can be done for example using the Interactive 3D Surface Plot plugin for ImageJ (as in my previous post ). The resulting surface is shown in Figure 1. This is almost exactly what your brain would do when you look at the 2D map colored with Jet in the previous post.


Figure 1

In Figure 2 the same data is now displayed as a surface where amplitude values were used for the elevation, with a very light sun shading to help a bit with the perception of relief, but no colormap at all. to When comparing Figure 1 with Figure 2 one of the artifacts is immediately recognized: the highest values in Figure 2, which honours the data, become a relative low in Figure 1. This is because red has lower intensity than yellow and therefore data colored in red in 2D are plotted at a lower elevation than data colored in yellow, even though the amplitudes of the latter were lowest.


Figure 2

For these reasons, I did not expect Jet to be the top pick. On the other hand, I think Jet is perhaps favoured because with consistent use, our brain, learns in part to accommodate for these non-perceptual artifacts in 2D maps, and because it has at least two regions of higher contrast (higher magnitude gradient) than other colormaps. Unfortunately, as I wrote in a recently published tutorial, these regions are randomly placed in the colormap, and the gradients are variable, so we gain on contrast but lose on faithfulness in representing the data structure.

Matt Hall wrote a great comment following the previous post, really making an argument for switching between multiple colormaps in the interpretation stage to explore  and highlight features in both the signal and the noise in the data, and that perhaps no single colormap is best overall. I agree 100% on almost everything Matt said, except perhaps on the best overall: looking at the 2D maps, at least with this dataset, I feel the heated body could be the best overall colormap, even if marginally. In Figure 3, Figure 4, Figure 5, and Figure 6 I show the 3D displays obtained by converting the 2D grayscale, linear lightness rainbow, modified heated body, and cube llightness rainbow, respectively. Looking at the 3D displays altogether gives me a confirmation of that feeling.

What do you think?


Figure 3


Figure 4


Figure 5


Figure 6

Geophysical tutorial – How to evaluate and compare colormaps in Python

These below are two copies of a seismic horizon from the open source Penobscot 3D seismic survey  coloured using two different colormaps (data from Hall, 2014).


Figure 1

Do you think either of them is ‘better’?  If yes, can you explain why? If you are unsure and you want to learn how to answer such questions using perceptual principles and open source Python code, you can read my tutorial Evaluate and compare colormaps (Niccoli, 2014), one of the awesome Geophysical Tutorials from The Leading Edge. In the process you will learn many things, including how to calculate an RGB colormap’s intensity using a simple formula:

import numpy as np
ntnst = 0.2989 * rgb[:,0] + 0.5870 * rgb[:,1] + 0.1140 * rgb[:,2] # get the intensity
intensity = np.rint(ntnst) # rounds up to nearest integer

…and  how to display  the colormap as a colorbar with an overlay plot of the intensity as in Figure 2.


Figure 2



Hall, M. (2014) Smoothing surfaces and attributes. The Leading Edge 33, no. 2, 128–129. Open access at: https://github.com/seg/tutorials#february-2014

Niccoli, M. (2014) Evaluate and compare colormaps. The Leading Edge 33, no. 8.,  910–912. Open access at: https://github.com/seg/tutorials#august-2014

New Matlab isoluminant colormap for azimuth data

I recently added to my Matlab File Exchange function, Perceptually improved colormaps, a colormap for periodic data like azimuth or phase. I am going to briefly showcase it using data from my degree thesis in geology, which I used before, for example in Visualization tips for geoscientists – Matlab. Figure 1, from that post, shows residual gravity anomalies in milligals.

data cube1_final_shading_slope

Figure 1

Often we’re interested in characterizing these anomalies by calculating the direction of maximum dip at each point on the surface, and for that direction display the azimuth, or dip azimuth.  I’ve done this for the surface of residual anomalies from Figure 1 and displayed the azimuth in Figure 2. Azimuth from 0 to 360 degrees are color-coded using Jet, Matlab’s standard colormap (until recently). Typically I do not trust azimuth values when the dip is close to zero because it is often contaminated by noise so I would use shading to de-saturate the colors where dip has the lowest values, but for ease of discussion I haven’t done so in this case.

Figure 2. Azimuth values color-coded with Jet.

Figure 2. Azimuth values color-coded with Jet.

There are two problems with Figure 2. First, the well-known problems with the jet colormap. For example, blue is too dark and blue areas appear as bands of constant colour. Yellow is much lighter than any other colour so we see artificial yellow edges that are not really present in the data. But there is an additional issue in Figure 2 because azimuths close in value to 0 and 360 degrees are colored with blue and red, respectively, instead of a single color as they should, causing an additional artificial edge.

In Figure 3 I recolored the map using a colormap that replicates those used in many geophysical software tools to display azimuth or phase data. This is better because it wraps around at 360 degrees but the perceptual issues are unresolved: in this case red, yellow and blue all appear as sharp perceptual edges.


Figure 3. Azimuth values color-coded with generic azimuth colormap.



Figure 4. Azimuth values color-coded with isoluminant azimuth colormap.


In Figure 4 I used my new colormap, called isoAZ (for isoluminant azimuth). This colormap is much better because not only does it wraps around at 360 degrees, but also lightness is held constant for all colors, which eliminates the perceptual anomalies. All the artificial yellow, red, and blue edges are gone, only real edges are left. This can be more easily appreciated in the figure below: if you hover with your mouse over it you are able to switch back and forth between Figure 3 and Figure 4.


From an interpretation point of view, azimuths 180 degrees apart are of opposing colours, which is ideal for dip azimuth data because it allows us to easily recognize folds where dips of opposite direction are juxtaposed at an edge. One example is the sharp edge in the northwest quadrant of Figure 4, where magenta is juxtaposed to green. If you look at Figure 1 you see that there’s a relative high in this area (the edge in Figure 4) with dips of opposite direction on either side (East and West, or 0 and 360 degrees).

The colormap was created in the Lightness-Chroma-Hue color space, a polar transform of the Lab color space, where lightness is the vertical axis and at each value of lightness, chroma is the radial coordinate and hue the polar angle. One limitation of this approach is that due to theirregular  shape of the color gamut section at each lightness value, we can never exceed  chroma values  of about 38-40 (at lightness = 65 in Matlab; in Python, with extensive trial and error, I have not been able to go past 36 using the Scikit-image Color module), which make the resulting colors pale, pastely.

it creates For those that want to experiment with it further, I used just a few lines of code similar to the ones below:

radius = 38; % chroma
theta = linspace(0, 2*pi, 256)'; % hue
a = radius * cos(theta);
b = radius * sin(theta);
L = (ones(1, 256)*65)'; % lightness
Lab = [L, a, b];

This code is a modification from an example by Steve Eddins on a post on his Matlab Central blog. In Steve’s example the colormap cycles through the hues as lightness increases monotonically (which by the way is an excellent way to generate a perceptual rainbow). In this case lightness is kept constant and hue cycles through the entire 360 degrees and wraps around. Also, instead of using the Image Processing Toolbox, I used  Colorspace, a free function from Matlab File Exchange, for the color space transformations.

For data like fracture orientation where azimuths 180 degrees apart are equivalent it is better to stack two of these isoluminant colormaps in a row. In this way we place opposing colors 90 degrees apart, whereas color 180 degrees apart are the same. You can do it using Matlab commands repmat or vertcat, as below:

radius = 38; % chroma
theta = linspace(0, 2*pi, 128)'; % hue
a = radius * cos(theta);
b = radius * sin(theta);
L = (ones(1, 128)*65)'; % lightness
Lab = [L, a, b];

Colormap compromise

At the end the series The rainbow is dead…long live the rainbow! I introduced CubicYF, a rainbow-like color palette with a slightly compressive, monotonic increasing lightness profile. The red color is missing from the palette because green and red at people with deuteranopia, the most common type of color vision deficiency, confuse red and green, so I took one out. An alternative solution to taking the red out is to have a yellow-like color with lower lightness followed by a red-like color of higher lightness, like in the LinearL palette described The rainbow is dead…long live the rainbow! – Part 5. A third solution, which is a compromise in perceptual terms, is CubicL (sometimes I called it cube1), the color palette I used with the gravity data from my degree thesis in geology in the series Visualization tips for geoscientists. An example map from the series in which I used CubicL is in Figure 1 below:

data cube1_final_shading_slope

Figure 1

To generate CubicL  I used a compressive function for the increase in lightness very much like the one for CubicYF, except in this case I allowed lightness to decrease from about 90 in the yellow portion of the colormap to about 80 to get to the red. As a result, there is an inversion in the lightness trend, indicated by the arrow in the bottom row in Figure 2. However, I believe this is an acceptable compromise, and one that is pleasing for people accustomed to rainbow (it has red), because the inversion is smooth, with a gentle downward-facing concavity. I also believe this colormap is still a perceptual improvement over the rainbow or spectrum so commonly used in seismic visualization, which typically have at least 3 sharp lightness inversions (indicated by arrows in the top row of Figure 2 below).


Figure 2

CubicL is one of the colormaps available in my Matlab File Exchange function Perceptually Improved Colormaps.