surface(cmd0::String="", arg1=nothing; kwargs...)

keywords: GMT, Julia, grid interpolation, minimum curvature


Reads randomly-spaced (x,y,z) triples from file or table and produces a binary file of gridded values z(x,y) by solving the differential equation (away from data points)

\[ (1 - t) \nabla ^2(z) + t \nabla (z) = 0 \]

where t is a tension factor between 0 and 1, and \(\nabla\) indicates the Laplacian operator. Here, t = 0 gives the "minimum curvature" solution. Minimum curvature can cause undesired oscillations and false local maxima or minima (See Smith and Wessel, 1990), and you may wish to use t > 0 to suppress these effects. Experience suggests t ~ 0.25 usually looks good for potential field data and t should be larger (t ~ 0.35) for steep topography data. t = 1 gives a harmonic surface (no maxima or minima are possible except at control data points). It is recommended that the user preprocess the data with blockmean, blockmedian, or blockmode to avoid spatial aliasing and eliminate redundant data. You may impose lower and/or upper bounds on the solution. These may be entered in the form of a fixed value, a grid with values, or simply be the minimum/maximum input data values. Natural boundary conditions are applied at the edges, except for geographic data with 360-degree range where we apply periodic boundary conditions in the longitude direction.

Required Arguments

  • table
    One or more data tables holding a number of data columns.

  • I or inc or increment or spacing : – inc=x_inc | inc=(xinc, yinc) | inc="xinc[+e|n][/yinc[+e|n]]"
    Specify the grid increments or the block sizes. More at spacing

Optional Arguments

  • A or aspect_ratio : – aspect_ratio=ar | aspect_ratio=:m
    Aspect ratio. If desired, grid anisotropy can be added to the equations. Enter ar, where dy = dx / ar relates the grid dimensions. For geographic data, you may use aspect_ratio=:m to set the aspect ratio to the cosine of the mean latitude [Default = 1 assumes isotropic grid.]

  • C or convergence : – convergence=clim | convergence="clim%"
    Convergence limit. Iteration is assumed to have converged when the maximum absolute change in any grid value is less than clim. (Units same as data z units). Alternatively, give limit in percentage of rms deviation by appending %. [Default is scaled to \(10^{-4}\) of the root-mean-square deviation of the data from a best-fit (least-squares) plane.]. This is the final convergence limit at the desired grid spacing; for intermediate (coarser) grids the effective convergence limit is divided by the grid spacing multiplier.

  • J or proj or projection : – proj=<parameters>
    Select map projection. More at proj

Select the data map projection. This projection is only used to add a referencing info to the grid formats that support it. E.g., netCDF, GeoTIFF, and others supported by GDAL.

  • D or breakline : – breakline="bfile" | breakline="bfile+z[level]"
    Use x, y, z data in the bfile file (or a GMTdataset) as a soft breakline. A soft breakline is a line whose vertices will be used to constrain the nearest grid nodes without any further interpolation. A coastline or a lake shore are good examples of soft breaklines. Multi-segments files are accepted. If your lines do not have z-values or you wish to override those with a constant z-value, then append +zlevel to the filename. If no value is given then we default to 0.

  • G or save or outgrid or outfile : – outgrid=[=ID][+ddivisor][+ninvalid][+ooffset|a][+sscale|a][:driver[dataType][+coptions]]
    Give the name of the output grid file. Optionally, append =ID for writing a specific file format (See full description). The following modifiers are supported:

    • +d - Divide data values by given divisor [Default is 1].

    • +n - Replace data values matching invalid with a NaN.

    • +o - Offset data values by the given offset, or append a for automatic range offset to preserve precision for integer grids [Default is 0].

    • +s - Scale data values by the given scale, or append a for automatic scaling to preserve precision for integer grids [Default is 1].

Note1: Any offset is added before any scaling. +sa also sets +oa (unless overridden). To write specific formats via GDAL, use =gd and supply driver (and optionally dataType) and/or one or more concatenated GDAL -co options using +c. See the “Writing grids and images” cookbook section for more details.

Note2: This is optional and to be used only when saving the result directly on disk. Otherwise, just use the G = modulename(...) form.

  • Ll or lower and Lu or upper : – lower=?? | upper=??
    Impose limits on the output solution. ?? in lower=?? sets the lower bound. It can be the name of a grid file with lower bound values, a fixed value, d to set to minimum input value, or u for unconstrained [Default]. upper sets the upper bound and can be the name of a grid file with upper bound values, a fixed value, d to set to maximum input value, or u for unconstrained [Default]. Grid files used to set the limits may contain NaNs. In the presence of NaNs, the limit of a node masked with NaN is unconstrained. Note: Grids given via L must be compatible with the desired output domain and increments.

  • M or mask : – mask=max_radius
    After solving for the surface, apply a mask so that nodes farther than max_radius away from a data constraint are set to NaN. Append a distance unit (see Units) if needed. One can also select the nodes to mask by using the mask="<n_cells>c" form. Here n_cells means the number of cells around the node controlled by a data point. As an example mask="0c" means that only the cell where the point lies is filled, mask="1c" keeps one cell beyond that (i.e. makes a 3x3 square neighborhood), and so on.

  • N or iterations or max_iterations : – iterations=n_iter
    Number of iterations. Iteration will cease when convergence is reached or when number of iterations reaches n_iter. This is the final iteration limit at the desired grid spacing; for intermediate (coarser) grids the effective iteration limit is scaled by the grid spacing multiplier [Default is 500].

  • Q or suggest : – suggest=true | suggest=:r
    Suggest grid dimensions which have a highly composite greatest common factor. This allows surface to use several intermediate steps in the solution, yielding faster run times and better results. The sizes suggested by suggest can be achieved by altering region and/or inc. You can recover the region and inc you want later by using grdsample or grdcut on the output of surface. Alternatively, append r to have surface use the specified region setting exactly as given in the calculations [Default automatically seeks a slightly larger region if that allows for more intermediate steps to ensure the best possible convergence; the region is then trimmed back to what was requested in region upon output].

  • S or search_radius : – search_radius=?? | search_radius="??m|s"
    Search radius. Enter search_radius in same units as x,y data; append m to indicate arc minutes or s for arc seconds. This is used to initialize the grid before the first iteration; it is not worth the time unless the grid lattice is prime and cannot have regional stages. [Default = 0.0 and no search is made.]

  • T or tension : – tension=factor | searchradius="i|bfactor"
    Tension factor[s]. These must be between 0 and 1. Tension may be used in the interior solution (above equation, where it suppresses spurious oscillations) and in the boundary conditions (where it tends to flatten the solution approaching the edges). Using zero for both values results in a minimum curvature surface with free edges, i.e., a natural bicubic spline. Use tension=i..., where ... is the tension_factor to set interior tension, and tension=b... to set boundary tension. If you do not prepend i or b, both will be set to the same value. [Default = 0 for both gives minimum curvature solution.]

  • V or verbose : – verbose=true | verbose=level
    Select verbosity level. More at verbose

  • W or log : – log=true | log=logfile
    Write convergence information to logfile [Default is surface_log.txt].

  • Z or over_relaxation : – over_relaxation=factor
    Over-relaxation factor. This parameter is used to accelerate the convergence; it is a number between 1 and 2. A value of 1 iterates the equations exactly, and will always assure stable convergence. Larger values overestimate the incremental changes during convergence, and will reach a solution more rapidly but may become unstable. If you use a large value for this factor, it is a good idea to monitor each iteration with the verbose=:i option. [Default = 1.4 converges quickly and is almost always stable.]

  • preproc : – preproc=true | preproc="blockmedian|blockmode"

This option means that the data is previously passed through one of block* modules to decimate the data in each cell as strongly advised. preproc=true will use blockmean. To use any of the other two, pass its name as value. *e.g.* preproc="blockmedian".

  • a or aspatial : – aspatial=??
    Control how aspatial data are handled in GMT during input and output. More at

  • bi or binary_in : – binary_in=??
    Select native binary format for primary table input. More at

  • di or nodata_in : – nodata_in=??
    Substitute specific values with NaN. More at

  • e or pattern : – pattern=??
    Only accept ASCII data records that contain the specified pattern. More at

  • f or colinfo : – colinfo=??
    Specify the data types of input and/or output columns (time or geographical data). More at

  • g or gap : – gap=??
    Examine the spacing between consecutive data points in order to impose breaks in the line. More at

  • h or header : – header=??
    Specify that input and/or output file(s) have n header records. More at

  • i or incol or incols : – incol=col_num | incol="opts"
    Select input columns and transformations (0 is first column, t is trailing text, append word to read one word only). More at incol

  • q or inrows : – inrows=??
    Select specific data rows to be read and/or written. More at

  • r or reg or registration : – reg=:p | reg=:g
    Select gridline or pixel node registration. Used only when output is a grid. More at

  • w or wrap or cyclic : – wrap=??
    Convert input records to a cyclical coordinate. More at

  • yx : – yx=true
    Swap 1st and 2nd column on input and/or output. More at


For map distance unit, append unit d for arc degree, m for arc minute, and s for arc second, or e for meter [Default unless stated otherwise], f for foot, k for km, M for statute mile, n for nautical mile, and u for US survey foot. By default we compute such distances using a spherical approximation with great circles (-jg) using the authalic radius (see PROJ_MEAN_RADIUS). You can use -jf to perform “Flat Earth” calculations (quicker but less accurate) or -je to perform exact geodesic calculations (slower but more accurate; see PROJ_GEODESIC for method used).


To grid 5 by 5 minute gravity block means from the ASCII data in hawaii5x5.xyg, using a *tensionfactor* = 0.25, a convergence_limit = 0.1 mGal, and monitoring each iteration, try:

G = surface("hawaii_5x5.xyg", region=(198,208,18,25), inc="5m", tension=0.25, convergence=0.1)


While the region specified by region determines your final output grid, internally we may use a slightly larger region that will allow for more intermediate grids (i.e., more common factors between n_columns - 1 and n_rows - 1). This should allow for better convergence in the final solution.

Gridding Geographic Data: Boundary Conditions

The surface finite difference algorithm is Cartesian at heart, hence the ad hoc option to change the aspect ratio for a suitable mean latitude (aspect_ratio). When geographic data are supplied and the output grid has a 360 degree longitude range we will impose periodic boundary conditions in longitude. However, no equivalent geographic boundary condition can be applied at the poles since the finite difference solution will not be valid there (actual spacing between the nodes at the poles is zero). If you attempt this type of gridding you will be severely warned but the calculations will continue. Because the result is a geographic grid, the GMT i/o machinery will interfere and detect inconsistencies at the pole points and replace all values along a pole with their mean value. This will introduce further distortion into the grid near the poles. We recommend you instead consider spherical gridding for global data sets; see greenspline (for modest data sets) or sphinterpolate, or project your data using a stereographic projection and grid the projected Cartesian data.

Gridding Geographic Data: Setting Increments

Specifying grid increments in distance units (meters, km, etc.) for geographic (lon, lat) grids triggers a conversion from the given increment to the equivalent increment in degrees. This is done differently for longitude and latitude and also depends on chosen ellipsoid, but ultimately is a great-circle approximation. For latitude we divide your y-increment with the number of you chosen unit per degree latitude, while for longitude we divide your x-increment by the number of such units per degree along the mid-parallel in your region. The resulting degree increments may therefore not exactly match the increments you entered explicitly. Hence, there may be rounding off in ways you don't want and cannot easily control, resulting in prime grid dimensions. You can handle the situation via suggest but with the never-ending decimals in some increments that is still a challenge. Another approach is to not grid geographic data using length units as increments, due to the above conversion. It may be cleaner to specify grid intervals in spherical degrees, minutes or seconds. That way you can control the grid dimensions directly and avoid the round-off. Alternatively, if your region is far from Equator and your are concerned about the difference in longitude and latitude increments in degrees you could project all data to a local projection (e.g., UTM) to yield units of meters, and then grid the projected data using meters as the final grid increment. Either approach avoids "ugly" increments like 0.161697s and will let you specify intervals that are easily divisible into the range. If increment choice is dictated by a need for a desired increment in meters then the projection route will yield better results.


surface will complain when more than one data point is found for any node and suggest that you run blockmean, blockmedian, or blockmode first. If you did run these decimators and still get this message it usually means that your grid spacing is so small that you need more decimals in the output format used. You may specify more decimal places by editing the parameter FORMAT_FLOAT_OUT in your gmt.conf file prior to running the decimators or choose binary input and/or output using single or double precision storage.

See Also

blockmean, blockmedian, blockmode, grdcut, grdsample, greenspline, nearneighbor, triangulate, sphinterpolate


Smith, W. H. F, and P. Wessel, 1990, Gridding with continuous curvature splines in tension, Geophysics, 55, 293-305,