Chapter 1. Overview of Vis5D

Table of Contents
Vis5D Documentation on the Web

Vis5D is a software system that can be used to visualize both gridded data and irregularly located data. Sources for this data can come from numerical weather models, surface observations and other similar sources. Vis5D can work on data in the form of a five-dimensional rectangle. That is, the data are real numbers at each point of a "grid" which spans three space dimensions, one time dimension and a dimension for enumerating multiple physical variables. Of course, Vis5D works perfectly well on data sets with only one variable, one time step (i.e. no time dynamics) or one vertical level. However, your data grids should have at least two rows and columns. Vis5D can also work with irregularly spaced data which are stored as "records". Each record contains a geographic location, a time, and a set of variables which can contain either character or numerical data.

A major feature of Vis5D is support for comparing multiple data sets. This extra data can be incorporated at run-time as a list of *.v5d files or imported at anytime after Vis5D is running. Data can be overlaid in the same 3-D display and/or viewed side-by-side spread sheet style. Data sets that are overlaid are aligned in space and time. In the spread sheet style, multiple displays can be linked. Once linked, the time steps from all data sets are merged and the controls of the linked displays are synchronized.

The Vis5D system includes the vis5d visualization program, several programs for managing and analyzing five-dimensional data grids, and instructions and sample source code for converting your data into its file format. We have included the Vis5D source code so you can modify it or write new programs. You can download the sample data sets from the LAMPS model and from Bob Schlesinger's thunderstorm model, so you can work through our examples. (We have also included a small dataset, hole.v5d, so you can verify that Vis5D works and try a couple of simple plots.)

Vis5D version 1.0 was written by Bill Hibbard and Dave Santek of the University of Wisconsin Space Science and Engineering Center, supported by the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, and by Marie-Francoise Voidrot-Martinez of the French Meteorology Office. Later version enhancements were written by Bill Hibbard, Brian Paul, Johan Kellum, and Andre Battaiola. Dave Kamins and Jeff Vroom of Stellar Computer, Inc. provided substantial help and advice in using the Stellar software libraries. Simon Baas and Hans de Jong of the Netherlands ported Vis5D to HP workstations. Pratish Shah of Kubota Inc. ported Vis5D to the Kubota Alpha/Denali workstation. Mike Stroyan of Hewlett Packard added PEX support. Steven G. Johnson of MIT added autoconf/automake support.

Vis5D is offered under the terms of the GNU General Public License, which you can find in the file COPYING, with the copyright statement in the file COPYRIGHT. As the notice states, there is no warranty for the Vis5D system, but we would be interested in hearing about your questions and problems. You can join the Vis5D mailing list by sending email to with:

subscribe vis5d-list

as the first line of the message body (not the subject line). You can also send questions to Bill Hibbard and Johan Kellum .

Our postal address is:

      Space Science and Engineering Center
      University of Wisconsin - Madison
      1225 West Dayton Street

This document is the complete guide for using Vis5D.


Over time, various enhanced versions of Vis5d have accumulated, which for one reason or another weren't folded into the main Vis5d tree. These forks unfortunately did not remain in sync with the main tree, nor were they coordinated with one another. Vis5d+ is a project that, with the original Vis5d authors' blessing, intends to be a central repository for third-party Vis5d enhancements in the future. We continue to communicate closely with the Vis5d authors, track changes in the main tree, and share bugfixes where possible. This project benefits from the collaboration and hosting services provided by SourceForge.

The initial version of Vis5d+ was based on a replacement of the original Vis5d's build process, which relied on specific Makefile rules for each supported system, with a more automated and portable system based on the GNU autoconf and automake tools. This led the way to a number of other improvements. Although this work was originally intended for use in the main Vis5d tree, the Vis5d authors' conservative approach towards major changes necessitate that, for now, we maintain it separately.