The DSDP and IODP Legacy Lithological Data
Delivered in Data Hypercubes
Institute for Arctic and Alpine Research, 

University of Colorado at Boulder

Using the Data:






A. Using the Data


The data is presented in the organization of a multidimensional cube, one dimension per parameter. Every parameter, not just the spatial data, can then be a dimension for query, retrieval, plotting. This makes the data uncomplicated in format and semantics, so that scientists unfamiliar with seabed data can use it effectively, efficiently and fully. Interdisciplinary use of the data is the goal.

The hypercube structure has other benefits. It is not software-specific and can be imported into many analysis packages including Matlab, ArcGIS, ArcView, MS Access, GMT, OceanDataView. Access to the complete data is full and direct through the hypercube, or per-core through KML Google Earth.

A wide range of science questions can be addressed. For example:
  • How have carbonate and siliceous biogenic facies reacted at ocean basin and water-mass scales in the past, to climate changes ?
  • What has the average sedimentation rate been for the first 10 My on newly formed ocean crust at stages through the last 70 My ?
  • Is there a systematic difference in porosities between biogenic and terrigenous sediments at the same grainsize, due to hollow and solid grains (respectively) ?
  • How good, statistically, is the correlation between sediment colour and carbonate content ?
  • Are there relations between the colours of sediments and their geologic age ? How globally extensive are those patterns ?

This project was performed by INSTAAR and LDEO,
Chris Jenkins and Bill Ryan,
with funding from LDEO.


Seismic sections need groundtruthing based on lithological records, to obtain the time-stratigraphic interpretations. The hypercube lithological data can be applied directly to that task because chronostratigraphic ages are associated.

Furthermore, software including Psicat and gINT are able to create lithologic columns from the hypercube, and they can be pictorially laid alongside seismic profiles. Scale corrections will be necessary to allow for velocities.

(Click to enlarge)


The data cube is quickly comprehensible to investigators interested in seabed materials, but not trained sufficiently in sedimentology or petrology to handle the complex data that is generated by ocean drilling expeditions. In this way the hypercube will aid efforts to interdisciplinary science.

It is also an important role for scientists to make their data available and comprehensible to the public. With this data structure, browse spatially to find out what the earth's seabed is made of, even when buried deep. Students can make figures for projects. To help with this a Google Earth visual index to the data has been made.
  • It may be interesting to combine that with other Google Earth data sets:

Draft 2 21Apr2007

B. Technical Explanation of the Data


The DSDP led to many revolutionary advances in our understanding of earth and ocean history over 200 million years. Much of the observational data  that underpinned the science is contained in this project. The project has reformed the data  to allow bulk analysis and visualisation of trends in global-scale earth history, as seen through lithologies.
This was best achieved by forming a multidimensional data structure - a hypercube. Until now re-processing, large scale computer visualization and analysis of the data was not possible. It was held pagewise as a type of written-corelog, unsuitable for spreadsheets, geographic information systems and databases. To make the dataset available for use in such applications it has had to be brought into a cellular format, and descriptive data has had to be parsed linguistically. The other major issues are data sparsity (the sheer amount of null values across the samples*parameters matrix), database granularity, and data quality control.
By describing the data as a 'hypercube' we want to convey that the whole of these geological data data can now be cut, viewed and analysed in many different planes, by the XYZT coordinates (longitude, latitude, depth bSL, depth bSF, geologic time) and also by one parameter against another. If people think of a multi-dimensional cube of information, admittedly with many gaps, then they will be correct.
Of course, a poly-dimensional data hypercube (this one is 4 dimensional at minumum, XYZT) cannot truly be imagined. Likewise, data products from that  concept of the data have to live in the reality of various common software applications. Hypercubes are rendered to humans by operations such as  projecting to planes or volumes, and 'splatting' (e.g., Yang 2003). We happen to render the data in ways that are strongly spatially directed, but inter-parameter splats are equally possible with the set.
In the NGDC CDROM, the best organized collection of DSDP data, the database granularity remained at drillsite "hole" level, unless items were extracted manually from the page-long hole descriptions. With this project, the data per core section is broken out into separate data items, a granularity of approximately 1.5m vertically. However, in many instances we have been able to discern and treat observations on individual small segregations and fractions within the core sections, giving a granularity on the scale of centimetres.
The data sparsity of this project is considerable. Only about ##% of the parameter*sample matrix holds non-null values. This is partly because not all observations are made on all samples in the on-board or lab programs. However it is also due to that fact that not all the lithologic descriptions could be parsed successfully, especially where the prose was irregular. Some of the analytical results will also have failed at processing quality filters.
The illustration along-side this introduction and others at THIS_PAGE show what is possible now, using the hypercube. Basically, with this in place, it is possible to voxelize aspects of ocean lithologic history, akin to the gridding on flat maps.
Time Coordinate
Geological time in the original DSDP data was given in terms of period, stage, and zone biostratigraphic and chronostratigraphic terms. Only rarely were absolute isotopic or paleomagnetic ages attached to materials. Unfortunately, but inevitably, the geologic time scales in use evolved during DSDP, and on-board age determinations were interim. Lazarus et al. (1995) developed age-depth models for 88 of the drilled holes according to one time scale and those models are refined, extended and served now through Chronos (2007). The revisions of time scales and time terms were not propagated systematically through the DSDP data, though some post-cruise datings were merged in during creation of the CDROM compilation.
We have taken the CDROM age determinations such as "Early Oligocene" and applied the International Stratigraphic Commission (ICS) timescale (Gradstein et al. 2004) to those names. This is a simplistic approach, admittedly, but we look to qualified geochronologists to replace these ages with better calibrated values in the future. The assessed scale of error in the method is of the order of  <1My (exceptionally up to 4My) to judge from successive revisions of stage absolute ages (Gradstein et al. 2004).
The method of parsing the age terms was as follows. Age values are encountered in the CDROM 'AGEPROF' or 'PALEO' lines, given usually as a stage name, perhaps with a division like "early". In the dbSEABED dictionary the chronological unit names are assigned absolute values (e.g. entry, "rupeln,Rupelian Stage,date,28.4,33.9,0.1, 0.1") of youngest, oldest, youngest uncertainty, oldest uncertainty. The unit is millions of years (my). The parser uses the youngest/oldest limits to create a code like "28.4y:o33.9" (with the uncertainties e.g., "28.4[0.1]y:o33.9[0.1]"). An analysed age such as K-Ar dating will appear in EXT (e.g., "0.0023[0.0001]y:o"), a biostratigraphic age in PRS. Where an age range is given, such as "upper_oligocene to lower_miocene" the two age ranges are combined, giving in this case the result "15.97t:b28.4".
So that data can be plotted to GIS, the code is transferred to a single central value in the preparation of the DSD_***n and Shapefile filesets. So that all samples have a time coordinate, just as they have a geographic coordinate, an age-depth index was built and was used to spread the age values throughout entire the DSD_***n and Shapefile filesets. Undated samples took the age of the sample next above.
Vertical Coordinate
  • The vertical datums used during data collection and archiving have been an impediment to creating a global analysable structure from ocean lithologic data. In this project we retain the original values, but the prime vertical coordinate is altitude relative to present sealevel. By using altitudes we keep the proper handedness of the data. Of course, sealevel is an inexact datum, but the variations are unlikely to be an issue except for closed-spaced or re-occupied DSDP holes.
  • We attach a sequential number - Sample Key - to each observed unit, segregation, sample, phase or fraction: in short to each different analysed material. Some samples are subject to many different analyses, and then one key applies to all those analyses. High value is obtained from this because it allows inter-parameter comparisons. When an observation is made at different scales, such as a visual description versus a smear slide, that counts as different material and key.
  • A code for the DSDP Leg, Site, Hole, Core and Section is given for each material (e.g., "DSDP:23:310:A:15:6") and can be used in relational databases. Other details on the sectioning and labelling of the core materials is provided by NOAA (2000).
Process Trail

A feature of dbSEABED outputs is the "DataType" or Audit Code. In first-level outputs it holds record of the data themes that contribute to an output record, for instance "LTH.COL.GTC" for lithology, colour, geotechnical. It will be different for extracted and parsed outputs. On merging these, as is done for the ONE and WWD output levels, DataType records whether a parameter is extracted (i.e., analysed, numeric) or parsed (i.e., descriptive, word-based), or specially calculated (estimated). A sequence like"PPPxPPxxxxPEEEPExxxPE" shows the EXT, PRS, CLC origins of the next 20 parameters, from 'Gravel' to 'GeolAge'.


File formats representing the hypercube
  • From this web site, three types of data products can be obtained, expressions of the hypercube:
    • Text files in GIS format presenting the data ready for use on geographic, chronologic, or inter-parameter coordinates
    • ArcMAP / ArcSCENE shapefiles, both geographic XYZ and geologic time XYT coordinates
    • A Google Earth top-level indexing of the data
  • File naming is as follows: DSD - Deep-Sea Drilling Project processing project; XXX - data processing stream (e.g., 'EXT'); * - either N for NGDC data delivery format, or C for compressed components format. The result is "DSD_XXX*", usually text. Shapefiles generated by ArcCatalog have "XY#" to the front, where # is the type of vertical dimension, Z for depth, T for geologic time.
  • The files are in There is no folder structure involved, so they can be dragged/extracted to any location.
Specialized outputs formatted for use in GIS
  • These have format rearranged so that the sample XYZT coordinates lie at the front, housekeeping next, then attribute data following. Otherwise they have the same data as earlier stage equivalents. 
    • dsd_EXTn - Extracted data, taken from inputs with little processing necessary. Mainly from analytical results in numerical and coded formats. 
    • dsd_PRSn - Parsed results, based on the descriptive word-based data.
    • dsd_CLCn - Results from further calculations following the extracted / parsed results. Mainly for abstruse parameters, chiefly geoacoustic, geotechnical.
    • dsd_ONEn - merged results of the EXT, PRS, CLC processing streams. The merging is done by priority that favours PRS over EXT over CLC, where more than one is present. Except for grainsizes, the process operates per parameter. For grainsizes, the most complete suite of grainsize data (gvl, snd, mud, grsz, srtng) is taken from the PRS,EXT,CLC data, prioritized where two or more equal suites are present.
    • dsd_CMPn - Component and feature abundances and intensities, computed from inputs such as grain counts, visual descriptions, etc. Component abundances sum to at most 100%, feature intensities (suffix "_F") are each limited to 100%.
Outputs specially formatted
  • dsd_CMPc - condensed components/features data for use in servers like GeoMapApp which draw on the data using a script.
  • dsd_AGE - special listing of age identifications in a format compatible with the accompanying reformatted Lazarus et al. (1995) listing.


(ArcMap, ArcView, ArcScene)

  • The text files above can be plotted, queried, sub-setted, symbolized, gridded in GIS systems including those of the ESRI suite. Shapefiles for the DSD_PRSN and DSD_CMPn series have been prepared and are served here. Only in ArcScene will the 3-dimensional aspect of the files be visible. Notice that for correct handedness in GIS, depths below sealevel and geologic time are negative (altitudes, time's arrow).
  • A global baseline to start with is the low-resolution public ESRI country.shp layer of national outlines. Users will later be able to make gridded or mesh topographies (bathymetries) to 'hang' the DSDP cores below.
  • The Shapefile sets are either in physical depth XYZ or geologic time XYT coordinate systems, using WGS84 datums. They are downloadable in zipped form from XYZ_Coordinates and XYT_Coordinates (337Mb each unzipped). ArcView 3.x GIS also opens these shapefiles.
  • Legends suitable for the data can be obtained from the dbSEABED site "". There is a collection for ArcView 3.x ('Avls') and for ArcMap9.x/ArcScene ('Lyrs'), point legends only.

Explanatory Documentation
  • Detailed documentation of dbSEABED methods, standards and outputs can be found on the web, especially under the usSEABED EEZ-mapping project. Good point-of-entry URL's are the Processing methods and FAQ web pages of Jenkins (2005a,b).
  • A document describing details of the processing of the DSDP data is available at NOAA (2000b).
Version notes
  • This is delivery v1.1 to MGG NGDC in Boulder. (v1.0 was initial assessment). The format of files may change if required by methods of serving / display.
  • Some aspects of the data that could do with further development.
    • The main one is that the geochronology is based on (?)shipboard paleontology. This should be replaced by the Lazarus scheme (NGDC dataset) at least, but also preferably with a new compilation by LDEO. Since the hypercube integration is computational, any new chronologies can be spliced in efficiently.
    • Not all the descriptive data could be successfully parsed. You can imagine that that is the case with some of the prose used by the describing scientists. On my assessment over 70% are parsed, and with an improved left-hand parser which is near complete, that will rise to over 90%.
    • Only 72 of the numerous possible components/features are listed. Future versions may extend to the complete (but evolving) set that is available from the data and the dbSEABED dictionary.
    • Not all the parameter themes of the CDROM have been incorporated. The most glaring absence is GRAPE, but also not treated yet are:
  • The subbottom depths are rendered exactly as given in the DSDP CDROM of input data. A conversion to later schemes may be possible in the future. Notice that by convention the way of placing sections in core lengths was changed at Leg 46.
  • The sample depths are only approximately in depth order, but are in strict order by section. Some top and bottom depth values may be reversed, where observers made that error.
  • Yang, L., 2003. Visual Exploration of Large Relational Data Sets through 3D Projections and Footprint Splatting. IEEE Trans. Knowl. Data Engng., 15(6), 1460-1471.
  • Lazarus, D., Spencer-Cervato, C., Pika-Biolzi, M., Beckmann, J,P., von Salis, K., Hilbrecht, H. and Thierstein, H., 1995. Revised Chronology of Neogene DSDP Holes from the World Ocean. Ocean Drilling Program Technical Note # 24. [Online: ""]
  • NOAA, 2000a. Core Data from the Deep Sea Drilling Project. WDC for MGG, Boulder Seafloor Series volume 1. [CDROM; Online: ""]
  • Chronos, 2007. Chronos. Iowa State University, Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences [Online: ""]
  • Gradstein, F.M., Ogg, J.G., and Smith, A.G., Agterberg, F.P., Bleeker, W., Cooper, R.A., Davydov, V., Gibbard, P., Hinnov, L.A., House, M.R., Lourens, L., Luterbacher, H.P., McArthur, J., Melchin, M.J., Robb, L.J., Shergold, J., Villeneuve, M., Wardlaw, B.R., Ali, J., Brinkhuis, H., Hilgen, F.J., Hooker, J., Howarth, R.J., Knoll, A.H., Laskar, J., Monechi, S., Plumb, K.A., Powell, J., Raffi, I., Röhl, U., Sadler, P., Sanfilippo, A., Schmitz, B., Shackleton, N.J., Shields, G.A., Strauss, H., Van Dam, J., van Kolfschoten, T., Veizer, J., and Wilson, D., 2004. A Geologic Time Scale 2004. Cambridge University Press, 589 pages.
  • NOAA, 2000b. Documentation files for DSDP data. In: NOAA, 2000a. [CDROM; Online: ""]
  • Jenkins, C.J., 2005a. dbSEABED. In: Reid, J.M., Reid, J.A., Jenkins, C.J., Hastings, M.E., Williams, S.J. and Poppe, L.J., 2005. usSEABED: Atlantic Coast Offshore Surficial Sediment Data Release, version 1.0. U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 118. [Online: ""]
  • Jenkins, C.J., 2005b. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about dbSEABED. In: Reid, J.M., Reid, J.A., Jenkins, C.J., Hastings, M.E., Williams, S.J. and Poppe, L.J., 2005, usSEABED: Atlantic Coast Offshore Surficial Sediment Data Release, version 1.0. U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 118. [Online: ""]
Copyright © 2002-7 INSTAAR, Univ. of Colorado Last modified 03Oct2007