Beginners Question

I want to model plate techtonics and was considering Blender or Unity. I have just discovered GPlates and it seems to be a tool targeted at what I am trying to do. Before I invest time in learning it, can someone answer questions about its abilities?

  • Can I use it to stretch or shrink continents?
  • If I stretch or shrink a continent going back in time, can I then export the new shape into a 2D image for further work in Photoshop or some other editor?
  • If shrinking o stretching a continent, can I limit the distortion to a certain area, e.g. a coastal mountain range?
  • If I shrink or stretch a continent, can I also make local changes to the crust, e.g. the coast is pushed by the oceanic crust and piles up to form a mountain range?
  • Can I use it to model planets that are not the same size as earth?
  • Can I resize a planet during the time line and so simmulate global expansion or global shrinkage?
  • Are the external files representing continents in a form that I could edit and manipulate?
  • When exporting a globe to a flat projection, can I choose an alterative centre point? Projections distort the poles. If I want to externally manipulate and reload Antarctica, it is easier if it is in the centre of the projection.


While GPlates does support deformation I suspect that it might not be fully useful for your scenario. It’s more useful for calculating velocities and crustal thinning/thickening inside deforming regions (though the latter might be useful to you). And while points on crust can be reconstructed through deforming regions you can’t really deform continent boundaries (polylines) unless they’re tessellated into points. There are some tutorials on deforming plate models here that give an idea how to build a deforming model.

I think you could, the globe coordinates are 2D latitude and longitude (with no radial height dimension) so the globe is represented internally as a unit radius sphere. Although there are probably places where the Earth’s radius comes into play.

Not really, for the above-mentioned reason.

GPlates supports the Shapefile format which can be edited in other GIS software (like QGIS).

Currently it’s only the central meridian (longitude) you can change (not centre latitude). Projections that have an arbitrary centre of projection like stereographic projections (that you might use to centre on Antarctica) aren’t supported, and probably won’t be since there are many assumptions built into GPlates based on the standard cylindrical-type projections (such as dateline wrapping), and also some of the non-cylindrical projections tend to not cover the entire globe (eg, might be useful only over a hemisphere to avoid significant distortion).

Thank you John. It looks as if I was wanting to push a square peg into round hole. I may have to focus on Blender or Unity if I wish to explore unconventional geological ideas.