Simulation, Analysis & Modelling (SAM)
Digitally recreating Earth processes

Earth reconstruction of a selection of the GPlates data at 67 million years ago. Source:  Earthbyte .

Earth reconstruction of a selection of the GPlates data at 67 million years ago. Source: Earthbyte.

Welcome to SAM! We provide the community with specialised, high quality software to interrogate Earth processes that affect life at its surface.

Our software delivers robust, open-source solutions to outstanding problems in geodynamics, energy, minerals exploration, mining and natural hazards. It is the infrastructure needed by Australia’s geoscience research and industry community to respond to our changing planet.



Underworld (Underworld2) is an open-source, particle-in-cell finite element code tuned for large-scale geodynamics simulations. It is a python-friendly code which provides a programmable and flexible front end to all the functionality of the code running in a parallel HPC environment.

Simulating formation of Earth’s oldest, near-surface material in Underworld2 ( Beall, Moresi & Cooper, 2018 ).

Simulating formation of Earth’s oldest, near-surface material in Underworld2 (Beall, Moresi & Cooper, 2018).

Discover our User Manual and Source Code.
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GPlates is desktop software for the interactive visualisation of plate tectonics. It offers a novel combination of interactive plate tectonic reconstructions, geographic information system (GIS) functionality and raster data visualisation.

GPlates enables both the visualisation and the manipulation of plate tectonic reconstructions and associated data through geological time. It runs on Windows, Linux and MacOS X.

Need help? Explore
User Manual.


Tectonic reconstruction of the accumulative deposition of reefal and carbonate platforms from 410 Ma to present day using the Matthews et al. (2016) plate model. GPlates animation for Pall et al.


esys-Escript is mathematical modelling module for python. Using the power of the python language users can implement complex 3D models based on coupled, non-linear, time-dependent partial differential equations. Modelling scripts can run on desktop computers as well as on large scale parallel computers.

It has successfully been applied in a broad spectrum of applications including geophysical inversion, damage mechanics, Earth mantle convection, earthquakes, porous media flow, reactive transport, plate subduction, and tsunamis.

esys-Escript integrates with many standard python modules and provides interfaces to 3D visualization tools and the mesh generation tool gmsh. It is available on Linux and MacOS.

3D inversion of gravity anomaly data in Western Queensland with about 64 million cells (Altinay & Gross,  2018 ).

3D inversion of gravity anomaly data in Western Queensland with about 64 million cells (Altinay & Gross, 2018).

Questions? Please visit our Q&A page. If you are running Debian or Ubuntu, please search for python-escript in your package manager.


What we’re working on

Our SAM Underworld team continues to help researchers understand our planet’s evolution and dynamics across a range of settings including the formation of the modern Australian continent, the formation of the Himalayan and Andes, the structure of sedimentary basins, the initiation of plate tectonics on Earth, the role of subduction and mantle convection on tectonic plate reorganisation.

Our SAM GPlates team is currently working on a global deforming plate model for the last 240 million years that captures the progressive extension of all continental margins since the initiation of rifting within Pangea, starting with the Triassic extension between Africa and North America (~240 Ma).

The model also includes the progressive compressional deformation valong collision zones, and the evolution of complex regions that have experienced consecutive extension and compression, as is the case for New Zealand.

Our SAM Escript team is working on virtual geophysical monitoring of carbon sequestration injections. In the project the response of geophysical methods such as for electric resistivity tomography (ERT) and gravity anomaly measurements are predict from CO2 spread simulated using a specialized pores media flow simulator (CSMP++).

Constitutive relationships are used in esys-escript to model the target quantities electric conductivity and density from the state of the reservoir. The simulated geophysical signals are feed into esys-escript inversion to optimize geophysical survey designs for tracking the plume spread.



Recently we, and researchers nationally have:

  • Launched Underworld2 into the cloud thanks to a collaborative project between AuScope’s AVRE and SAM — Underworld teams (2018).

  • Recreated craton formation and the onset of Plate Tectonics using Underworld2 software, suggesting an early ‘catastrophic switching on’ mechanism of plates (Beall, Moresi and Cooper, 2018).

  • Examined the dynamics of continental accretion using Underworld2 software (Moresi, Betts, Miller and Cayley, 2014).

  • Resolved a long-standing debate on how Australia’s Highest Mountains in the Eastern Australian Highlands formed by the EarthByte research team using GPlates plate tectonic reconstructions. The team were able to explain that voluminous sediments, important for energy exploration, in the Great Australian Bight were transported there by the ancient Ceduna River, coinciding with the initial phase of uplift of the highlands in the Cretaceous Period. This research was widely reported in the media, including the Sydney Morning Herald, communicating to the public the value of understanding the evolution of the Australian continent.

  • Provided the capability to run large-scale, parallelized geophysicial inversion using esys-Escript software on the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility through the AuScope geophysical data portal (VGL).

  • Built an Australia's lithospheric density field model based on the AUSREM seismic model using esys-Escript.


SAM software has enabled research geoscientists to better understand Earth’s system, and how it relates to climate and oceanic systems in turn, enabling positive impacts for Australia. One recent example includes our GPlates team informing the selection of potential Carbon capture and storage (CCS) across Australia (EarthByte, 2017).



In the next decade, the dynamic response of the Earth to changing conditions is increasingly going to impact on daily life. Our Underworld project team need to design code that will help us model things like sea level change, natural hazards and earth subsidence due to groundwater pumping and engineering work at a measurable scale.

Our GPlates team plans to develop code for models that tell us about deep Earth in deep time:

  • assimilate geophysical and high-precision and high-resolution geochemical data into models to reveal critical aspects of the mantle to great depths (since convection transports deep mantle material into the shallow melting region) and in deep time (e.g., through the time-integrated decay of radiogenic isotopes), as constraints for geodynamic models.

  • develop inverse/adjoint modelling capabilities through international partnerships, where present-day and time-dependent observations are propagated backward through geological history, together with uncertainties

  • build statistical approaches to evaluate uncertainty complex models dependent on a multitude of parameters and a complex set of observations, through deep time, back to –initial amalgamation of Australia, as part of the Nuna supercontinent

And our esys-Escript team will make multi-resolution capabilities available for inversion and simulations that support not only an easier and more effective way to import geological information but also an adaptation of resolution on the fly as the inversion or simulation progresses.

This approach will allow meeting a target accuracy at minimal computational costs and hence provides a key to address inversion of multi-physical 3D data sets across large spatial areas targeting subsurface imaging of the entire Australian continent.



Prof. Louis Moresi
University of Melbourne

Underworld, Melbourne Uni
Dr. Rebecca Farrington

GPlates, Sydney Uni
Prof. Dietmar Müller

eScript, Queensland Uni
Prof. Lutz Gross

Since 2006