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Corelle is a simple system for reconstructing the location of tectonic plates back in geologic time. The software is compatible with GPlates, but it is designed specifically to support interactive web visualizations. It is named for the venerable dinnerware owned by everyone's grandma.

Useful links

Corelle's goals

Corelle is designed for "simplicity", in two broad categories:

Focused and well-defined capabilities

Corelle faithfully implements a subset of GPlates functionality supporting the rotation of existing plate models. While GPlates is a capable and complete system for building and rendering plate models, its sophistication (and that of its PyGPlates binding) comes at a cost of complexity that inhibits installation, usage, and integration with other systems.

Corelle is primarily designed for use by geoscientists outside of the tectonics domain, and makes it simple to achieve basic rotations. Its client/server design allows use in "satellite" applications without the overhead of a full GPlates system. This allows the integration of dynamic plate reconstructions into a variety of apps and analytical processes.

Efficiency for web visualization

Corelle's architecture balances simplicity and power — its key advance is to calculate rotations on the server but leave the last step (rotating paleogeographic features to their final positions) to be run separately by each application.

The final step in plate reconstruction, applying a vector rotation to geographic features, is mathematically simple but highly dependent on the input data — leaving it for the client makes it much quicker to rotate large amounts of data dynamically through time, since map data doesn't have to repeatedly traverse the network.

Some examples from the Seton et al., 2012 rotation model:

Since features are rotated at the point of use, the Corelle server is only responsible for tracking the rotations themselves, allowing for much more modular and composable systems.

Structure of the project

Corelle's plate rotation engine is built on a PostgreSQL/PostGIS database (to track the plate dependency tree and run geospatial operations). quaternion rotation vectors are accumulated in Python. Modeled rotation vectors are sent to be applied by separate software on the client; simple client libraries for Python and Javascript are provided here.

Corelle's public-facing API is in beta but will eventually be integrated with Macrostrat's core services, which already power plate rotations in PBDB and other projects. Upcoming work will focus on integrating new plate models with these applications.

This repository contains several related components:

  • An API server that provides rotations from several GPlates .rot files and associated plate polygons.
  • A testing suite that validates conformance to GPlates results.
  • The @macrostrat/corelle Javascript library, which implements quaternion rotations to display rotations.
  • An example web application that implements basic plate motions atop several common plate models.


Local development

A recent (>3.6) version of Python is required to run the backend code. A recent version of Node.js is required to bundle the frontend. The Python module expects to use the postgresql:///plate-rotations database by default, but this can be easily changed using the CORELLE_DB environment variable.

To install the backend, run make install in this repository. The corelle executable should be installed on your path. make init imports models and feature datasets. Then corelle serve starts the testing API server.

To build (and continuously watch) the frontend, run make dev. A backend API server will be started and proxied, so you don't have to run corelle serve.

Installation with Docker

Simply install Docker and run docker-compose up --build in the root directory. This will build the application, install test data, and spin up the development server.

You can run a development version by creating a .env file containing COMPOSE_FILE=docker-compose.yaml:docker-compose.development.yaml in the root directory. This will tell Docker to spin up the frontend container using settings for auto-rebuilding.


  • Fix subtle math bugs!
  • On-database cache of rotations (say, at 1 Ma increments?)
  • Return pre-rotated feature datasets (rather than just modern versions)
  • Materialized view for split feature datasets
  • Allow feature datasets to be listed
  • Create a dockerized version
  • Polish the frontend demo

API Reference

Get valid models

Returns a list of available models


Rotate a point

Pass points as a URLEncoded, space-separated list of comma-separated lon-lat pairs. E.g. 20,-20 10,10 to rotate two points becomes


Rotation primitives

This route gives you the axis-angle or quaternion representation of plate rotations at the specified time, for client-side rotation of points.

All rotations defined by the model


Rotation for a specific plate


Return formats

  "axis": [0.027206502237792123, 0.013804853692062557, -0.03262231893894808],
  "angle": 0.08936020386653408,
  "plate_id": 311
  "quaternion": [
  "plate_id": 311

Features for rotation

For right now, features are not returned pre-rotated, but this capability will be added to the API. Instead, features are returned as-is, with plate_id, old_lim, and young_lim properties so they can be rotated client-side.

A named feature dataset

Arbitrary feature datasets (imported in advance on the backend). The datasets are returned split on plate boundaries and so they can be rotated on the client side. The example below fetches the ne_110m_land dataset.


TODO: allow listing of all named feature datasets.

Modern plate polygons

This route returns the plate polygons features themselves.