Mathematical Geophysics Research Spotlight

A Powerful New Tool for Research

A novel interface allows users of MATLAB and GMT, two software packages widely used by the geoscience community, to simultaneously harness the capabilities of both products.

Source: Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems


The open-source Generic Mapping Tools (GMT) software is widely used to process, manipulate, and display geoscience data sets in multiple dimensions. Although earlier versions of GMT provided basic grid input/output for MATLAB®, a separate “mapping toolbox” and programming language developed by MathWorks, the two products could not directly share their data or methods.

Now Wessel and Luis have developed a simple and flexible interface between the two programs that increases their interoperability and extends the capabilities of both tools. The GMT/MATLAB Toolbox provides GMT users with full access to MATLAB’s robust computational abilities while also allowing MATLAB users to access GMT’s specialized applications, including those that produce publication-quality illustrations. The new toolbox is able to access not only the core components of the GMT software package but also custom extensions installed by the user, including one specially developed for the Global Seafloor Fabric and Magnetic Lineation Data Base Project. These advances are made possible by the GMT library, which enables similar interfaces for Octave, Julia, and soon Python.

A new method marries two software programs for most efficient research
A screen capture shows the programs in use. The figure on the left is a PNG produced by GMT but loaded into MATLAB. On the right is a MATLAB graph of the individual profiles, with the averaged profile drawn in a thicker line. Credit: Wessel and Luis [2017]
In addition to an overview of the new toolbox, the researchers provide several detailed examples of how it can be applied to data sets of interest to the geoscience community, including an analysis of crossover error that could not easily be accomplished by either program alone. The GMT/MATLAB Toolbox, which the team describes as “a giant step forward in interoperability,” is freely available online for all computing platforms at the University of Hawaii’s GMT website. (Geochemistry, Geophysics, Geosystems,, 2017)

—Terri Cook, Freelance Writer

Citation: Cook, T. (2017), A powerful new tool for research, Eos, 98, Published on 17 July 2017.
Text © 2017. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
Except where otherwise noted, images are subject to copyright. Any reuse without express permission from the copyright owner is prohibited.