Visualization of Flow Behavior in Earth Mantle Convection

Simon Schroder, John A. Peterson, Harald Obermaier, Louise H. Kellogg, Kenneth I. Joy, Hans Hagen
A fundamental characteristic of fluid flow is that it causes mixing: introduce a dye into a flow, and it will disperse. Mixing can be used as a method to visualize and characterize flow. Because mixing is a process that occurs over time, it is a 4D problem that presents a challenge for computation, visualization, and analysis. Motivated by a mixing problem in geophysics, we introduce a combination of methods to analyze, transform, and finally visualize mixing in simulations of convection in a self-gravitating 3D spherical shell representing convection in the Earth's mantle. Geophysicists use tools such as the finite element model CitcomS to simulate convection, and introduce massless, passive tracers to model mixing. The output of geophysical flow simulation is hard to analyze for domain experts because of overall data size and complexity. In addition, information overload and occlusion are problems when visualizing a whole-earth model. To address the large size of the data, we rearrange the simulation data using intelligent indexing for fast file access and efficient caching. To address information overload and interpret mixing, we compute tracer concentration statistics, which are used to characterize mixing in mantle convection models. Our visualization uses a specially tailored version of Direct Volume Rendering. The most important adjustment is the use of constant opacity. Because of this special area of application, i. e. the rendering of a spherical shell, many computations for volume rendering can be optimized. These optimizations are essential to a smooth animation of the time-dependent simulation data. Our results show how our system can be used to quickly assess the simulation output and test hypotheses regarding Earth's mantle convection. The integrated processing pipeline helps geoscientists to focus on their main task of analyzing mantle homogenization.