Red Relief for a Japanese Volcano

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Why We Love It

Technology and art flow together in this map to illustrate the influence of a volcano on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. With stunning visual impact, the map reveals both major structures and fine details that would otherwise be lost under a blanket of vegetation. We love how this map serves as a kind of 3D sonogram for the growing earth with colors and shading to show historic and hidden lava flows.

Why It Works

New technology calls for new visualization methods such as this Red Relief Image Map (RRIM) technique. Here, we see high-resolution 3D topographic data, made available by modern LiDAR systems, combined with multiple data layers to simultaneously show topographic slope, concavities, and convexities. The detail is so engaging, it leaves you to wonder why more maps of volcanoes, fault zones, landslides, and slope failures aren’t done this way.

Important Steps

Obtain your 3D data, such as LiDAR, SRTM, GTOP030, ETOPO2.

Calculate the positive openness values that represent bumps, hills, and mountains.

Calculate the negative openness values that represent sinks, dips, valleys, etc.

Apply RRIM color settings, where steep areas are red and flat areas are white.

Apply RRIM shading settings, where ridges are white and valleys are black.



The 3D data comes from LiDAR, SRTM, GTOP030, ETOPO2, or other sources. See the Red Relief Image Map website for sample datasets.


The slope gradient and positive openness and negative openness are calculated from DEM. Ridge-valley value is calculated from positive and negative openness. See the Red Relief Image Map website for additional information.


The Red Relief Image Map is the result of years of research and testing. Creating an individual map such as this takes a few days to process the data, apply the colors and shading, and review.



Slope is expressed with a color. Red has a strong effect on the reader’s perception.

Openness calculation


Openness calculation is what gives relative relief—the fine detail in the map.



The combination brings out the detail.

Map Author

Tatsuro Chiba

Tatsuro Chiba

@arukazan | LinkedIn

I work at Asia Air Survey Company, and teach at Nihon University. I write the Muttering by One Scientist (ある火山学者のひとりごと) blog.

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