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Creating Contour and 3D Maps With Surfer from Downloaded Images

One of the new features in the Surfer mapping software that hasn’t gotten a lot of mention is the ability to download imagery as grids. Most of you may know that Surfer can connect directly to WMS servers and download georeferenced images directly into your maps as base layers. You can download aerial photographs, orthoimagery, shaded topographic images, scanned USGS maps, images showing geological bedrock, etc.  However, did you know you can also download imagery as grid files and use them to create contours or other grid-based maps?

You can download images as grids from WMS servers using either the Grid | Grid from Server command, or by clicking the Download button in the Open Grid dialog when creating a grid-based map. The difference is that the Grid | Grid from Server command downloads the image as a grid file directly to your hard drive so you can use it later on (e.g. for blanking) or in multiple maps.


Download images from WMS servers and use them directly in Surfer as grid files.

For example, let’s say you have a base map of the major Hawaiian Islands and wish to add a visual aspect of the elevation (but don’t have or need exact data). You can:

1.     Load the base map. Click Map | New | Base Map, select HI_Outline.bln from our website click Open.


A base map of the major Hawaiian Islands is created

2.    Now let’s download a terrain image as a grid file, blank it to the outline of the major Hawaiian Islands and add it to the map. The first step is to download the grid.

a.       Click Grid | Grid from Server. The Download Online Grids dialog opens.

b.      Select a server and a layer of terrain data. For example, expand the Terrain Data category and expand the USGS IMS Ref server.

c.       Select the 1/3 NED Hawaii Shaded Relief layer. When the layer is selected, you can see a preview of the image.

d.      The number of pixels in the image will determine the grid resolution. If you want a higher grid resolution, expand the Select Grid Resolution to Download section and move the slider to the right to the desired resolution.

e.      Click OK.

f.        In the Save Grid As dialog, choose to save the grid file and click Save.

g.       In the Export Options, check GS Reference (Version 2) file to save the spatial reference information, and click OK.

3.       Now the grid has been saved. Let’s blank it so that there is no image data outside the island boundaries.

a.       Click Grid | Blank.

b.      Select the grid file and click Open.

c.       Select the BLN file we initially imported and click Open.

d.      Give the new grid file a name and click Save.

e.      In the Export Options, check GS Reference (Version 2) file to save the spatial reference information, and click OK.

f.        Click OK in the message that says the blanked grid file was created.

4.       Now we can add the image map.

a.       Click on the existing map to select it and click Map | Add | Image Layer.

b.      Select the blanked grid and click Open. If you get a warning that the new layer exceeds the current map limits, just click No.

c.       Select the new Image layer in the Object Manager, and in the Property Manager, on the General page:

                                                               i.      Under General, you can click the (…) button to the right of colors, load a CLR file (download here), and click OK.

                                                             ii.      Under Hill Shading, make sure Enable hill shading is not checked.

                                                            iii.      Under Missing Data, set the color to Baby Blue and the Opacity to 30%.


Add the grid file downloaded from the WMS server as an image layer.

5.       Now you can convert the coordinate system of the map and add other map data, such as a map scale bar, graticule, or other map layers.


Complete the map by converting the coordinate system of the map or adding other map data, such as a graticule or map scale.


When you add the color scale bar, you will notice that the Z values for the Image layer range from 0 to 1.


The Z values of the grids from the downloaded images range from 0 to 1 instead of having true Z values.

This is because WMS servers do not provide imagery with Z values. Because these are images without Z values, Surfer's mapping software will convert the color of the pixel in the image to a value between 0 and 1. Therefore, these maps do not show true elevation. The downloaded grids are still useful though, as you can get an idea for the relative elevation of the area and display it in an informative fashion. As one Surfer 13 user says: “I like downloading grid files online, even if it’s just seeing relative (0 to 1) elevations it’s helpful.

One of the main sources of frustration when downloading online maps or grids is finding a WMS server with imagery for your area of the world. We have compiled a list of URLs for working WMS servers on our website. However note that when you download online images as grids, you want to make sure that the color in the image reflects the variable that you want the Z value to represent. For example, aerial photographs would not be a good choice for downloading as a grid because the colors in the image could represent trees, buildings, roads, water, etc. The colors in the image do not reflect the elevation or any other value. For elevation values, I recommend using a server showing a terrain image in grayscale color. For example, in the Download Online Grids dialog, under the Terrain Data category there are a few servers of terrain data for the United States.

It would be great if Surfer could download the grid-based data so that the grid would have real world Z values. That would require support for other server types (such as WCS servers), which more commonly offer images with true Z values associated with them. Look for this in a future version!




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19 January 2016

As many of you know, the craft beer explosion has been hitting Colorado for years, becoming one of the main staples of the Colorado economy with hundreds of breweries littered across our colorful state.  Sampling craft beer at local breweries, a very popular activity among many adults, has become a mainstay of the Colorado culture. This phenomenon is not limited to beer; the craft beverage industry seems to keep growing and growing. Craft distilleries are also popping up all over the place. Colorado is now home to over 70 craft distilleries, providing a home for locals to sip some of the best tasting and finest quality spirits in the country. This artisan drink trend is creating a new sub-culture of bar-goers, where the distillery tasting rooms are their new target destinations.

As this trend increases in popularity, my curiousity rises, and I ask myself, “Where are these 71 distilleries located across the state? Are there any near my neighborhood in Denver? ” I put together an easy solution by using a combination of the internet, Surfer, MapViewer, Google Earth, and beginner-level GIS experience. I started the project by doing a little internet research to find the addresses of the distilleries in Colorado. Once I had done so, I used our mapping software Surfer to generate a data table of the addresses that were then geo-coded. With data that is geo-coded, it was fairly simple to create a post map in Surfer of all of the distillery locations across Colorado. Finally, I exported the post map from Surfer in KML format and imported it into Google Earth for seamless display of the distillery locations on that platform. I used the following approach to answer my questions :

Acquiring the Data:

After a few minutes of Google searching, I was able to find a good online resource that lists food, beer, and wine producers in Colorado. I used the website to acquire the names and addresses of the 71 distilleries across the state. I copied the data from the website and pasted it into Surfer’s worksheet. In the worksheet, I was able to clean up the data and confirm that I had separate columns for distillery name, address, city, state, and zip code, which are the standard required fields for geo-coding.

Geocoding the Data:

With a nice data file that contains the distillery information, it was time to identify the Lat/Lon coordinates for these locations so they can be plotted spatially on a map. I used MapViewer to Geocode the addresses and exported the data to DAT format.

Surfer - Editing data in the worksheet window

Colorado distillery data that has been geo-coded in MapViewer.

Plotting the Data:

With a geocoded data file that has all 71 distilleries, creating a post map in the Surfer mapping software was straight-forward. I used the steps below to create a post map combined with a Colorado county base map, overlaid on a National Agricultural Inventory Program aerial image. 

The steps I used in Surfer are:

1.       I clicked Map | New | Post Map.

2.       In the Open Data dialog, I navigated to the data file named CO_Distilleries.xls and clicked Open.

3.       The post map layer needs to have a coordinate system assigned to it, so I selected it in the Object Manager, clicked the Coordinate System tab in the Property Manager and clicked the Set button.

4.       In the Assign Coordinate System dialog, I navigated to Predefined | Geographic (lat/lon) | World Geodetic System 1984 and clicked OK.

5.       I also turned the labels on for the post map by selecting it in the Object Manager, clicking the Labels tab in the Property Manager, and changing the Worksheet column to Column C: Name.

6.       Now that I have the point locations of the 71 distilleries posted on a georeferenced map, I added a Colorado boundary file by selecting the map and clicking Map | Add | Base Layer.

7.       In the Import dialog, I navigated to CO2010.gsb and clicked Open.

8.       I also added an image from a WMS server by selecting the map and clicking the Map | Add | Base Layer from Server command.

9.       In the Download Online Maps dialog, I selected the USGS_EROS_Ortho_NAIP server, increased the resolution, and clicked OK to download the base image for the state.

An excerpt from the resulting Surfer mapping software is below; it gave me a good idea of where the distilleries are and how they are dispersed across the state.

 Surfer - post map of Colorado distilleries

Colorado distilleries plotted as a post map in Surfer.

Exporting the Data:

Although the map I created in Surfer gave me a good assessment of the distilleries’ disbursement across the state at a large scale, I really wanted to get a feel of where the distilleries near and around Denver are located compared to one another and the various districts in the area.  Google Earth is a great way to incorporate data that I have generated in Surfer with the various layers that Google Earth offers and allows for a nifty fly through. I decided to export the post map to Google Earth’s KML format from Surfer, so I could easily navigate around the area and view the various locations of specific distilleries.

The steps I used to create the KML in Surfer are:

1.       In the Object Manager, I clicked the Map to select it.

2.       I clicked File | Export.

3.       In the Export dialog, I named the file Colorado Distilleries, changed the Save as type to KML, checked the Show options dialog box, and clicked Save.

4.       In the Export Options dialog, I clicked the KML/KMZ Options tab, set the Text Objects to Export as labels, and clicked OK.

To display the KML on Google Earth, I opened Google Earth and clicked File | Open. In the Open dialog I navigated to Colorado Distilleries.kml and clicked Open. As you can see below, the KML file created in Surfer mapping software adds a great layer to Google Earth where I can now easily find a distillery and what’s going on around it. I may want to pop into one of the tasting rooms for a night cap!

Google Earth map of KML created in Surfer

Colorado distillery locations displayed in Google Earth.


30 December 2015

Golden Software customers possess a broad assortment of backgrounds from earth sciences and engineering to education and politics. This vast background results in a variety of uses for Golden Software’s products. Each customer uses the software in a unique way, and we are pleased to share these stories. This blog features Dr. John Hall of the Geological Survey of Israel and his use of Surfer.

Dr. Hall is a marine geophysicist and doctoral graduate from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Geological (now Earth) Observatory. Upon the completion of his doctorate, he worked for the Geological Survey of Israel until his retirement at the end of 2005. His research includes global tectonics, offshore geophysical surveys, and compilations of detailed gridded topography for Israel and neighboring areas. Although Dr. Hall is retired, he continues to utilize Golden Software’s own contouring, gridding, and 3D surface mapping program, Surfer.

“I have used Surfer since the time that it worked on piddling little grids with maybe 100 by 100 nodes and a thousand data points,” recalls Dr. Hall. His first copy of Surfer was a DOS version which ran on IBM’s Personal Computer Advanced-Technology (PC-AT). During this time, Dr. Hall used an innovative technique on the first PC-AT to generate grids. This technique generated the 25 meter grid of Israel by coloring in the areas between 10 meter contours on the 1:50,000 topographical sheets as he was not permitted to digitize the contours.

Surfer Grid Map - Israel
This image is the result of 12,000 hours of heads-up digitizing
on PC-ATs between 1987 and 1992 as viewed in Surfer.

Surfer has come a long way since the DOS version and is now used by Dr. Hall to create Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) of the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea, the Red Sea and the Caspian Sea. To create these DTMs, hundreds of thousands of digitized soundings are compiled and then gridded using Surfer’s kriging method. As is the case with most digitized soundings, errors, also known as artifacts, are prevalent; therefore Surfer is used to separate the artifacts from the DTMs for analysis. Combining the tools provided by Surfer and other mapping programs, Dr. Hall can generate impressive models.

Surfer Digital Terrain Model - Kriging Method
In 2010, Dr. Hall spent 44 days on the icebreaker, Healy, mapping
50,000 sq. km up to the North Pole to investigate new bathymetric features.

Dr. Hall’s recent projects are quite fascinating. Just last week, Dr. Hall kriged 46,000 digitized soundings and 10 meter contours for the Gulf of Suez to generate 50 meter UTM grids. The grids will be used by a professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz to create seiche animations to potentially illustrate how the Israelites crossed the Red Sea ~3,300 years ago. Additionally, Dr. Hall contributed to the General Bathymetric Chart of the Oceans (GEBCO) Cook Book for making grids of the world’s oceans and his chapter detailed his use of Surfer and the other software packages. He states Surfer “is the program of choice for interpolation of grids.”

We are pleased Dr. Hall has integrated Surfer into his workflow, and it is exciting to see his application of Surfer’s tools.

For additional information, visit the below links:

If you would like to be featured in a future Customer Spotlight, contact us.

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05 February 2016

Golden Software customers possess a broad assortment of backgrounds, from earth science and engineering to education and politics. This vast background results in a variety of uses for Golden Software’s products. Each customer uses our software in their own unique way, and we are pleased to share these stories. This blog features Willem Havermans, a senior engineering consultant for MWH Global, who uses a combination of Voxler and Surfer's mapping software to visualize groundwater contamination levels and generate conceptual remediation models for their areas of interest.

Willem Havermans has been a faithful user of Golden Software applications dating back to early 2000. He has purchased multiple versions of Surfer's mapping software. He also uses Voxler's 3D data visualization capabilities on a daily basis and has held a Strater license for the past few versions. Havermans, working with MWH Global, uses a combination of Voxler and Surfer to perform 3D data processing of surface and subsurface soil contamination and surface creation. He uses Goolden Software's mapping software to create a strong basis for generating conceptual models of groundwater contamination and in planning of remedial designs.

Why does Havermans take a 3D approach to modeling groundwater contamination, as opposed a traditional top-down, slice-modeling approach? Havermans feels that with the traditional modeling approach, relationships between a series of 2D slices are typically difficult to interpret, can introduce human-caused error, and quite often volumetric calculations of containments levels are estimated. Making use of models that employ 3D interpolation of adjacent down-hole data samples offers the possibility of displaying the presence of contamination in a 3D view. For this purpose, Havermans' 3D interpolations are made using Voxler.

Voxler Groundwater Contamination
A top-down view of a groundwater contamination model that was generated by Willem Havermans
in Voxler. The different groundwater contamination levels in the city of The Hague, Netherlands
are rendered by using multiple Isosurface modules and a WellRender module.

Havermans used Voxler and Surfer to develop a 3D model of groundwater contamination in the city of The Hague, Netherlands. The model was based on an array of monitoring well data; where concentration levels of contaminants were developed for the area of interest through 3D interpretations that were calculated using Voxler’s Gridder. Once the groundwater contamination data was gridded, Isosurfaces for the different contamination thresholds were generated for the area. Voxler is used to calculate the size of the soil volume for each of the contaminant threshold levels, allowing the stakeholders to get a good assessment of the volume of soil that requires mediation work. The pathways and direction of the contamination plumes are easily visualized spatially because Voxler supports various types of GIS raster and vector data.

Voxler Groundwater Contamination - Cross Section
A perspective cross sectional view of the contamination thresholds, generated in Voxler, that are
rendered by various Isosurface modules that have been clipped to pinpoint the most contaminated
locations. This model aids the remediation team in figuring out where to focus their remediation efforts.

Havermans is particularly fond of Voxler because once a model is set-up; it can be easily updated within a few mouse clicks when new data becomes available from the monitoring wells. Contamination threshold Contours and Isosurfaces and be regenerated by updating the gridder. This allows Havermans to manage the groundwater contaminations over time, where he can see differences in concentrations and recalculate soil contaminations. He indicates that managing groundwater contamination data over time is extremely beneficial in directing ongoing remediation efforts. Havermans also exports the gridded contamination data from Voxler so that is can be easily combined with groundwater modeling software like MODFLOW to predict contamination behavior and remediation progress over time.

Third Image
A front view of the various contamination threshold Isosurfaces
in conjunction with a series of monitoring wells.


Download the PDF version of this article.

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