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Colin Ware, John G.W. Kelley, and David Pilar

Considerable effort has gone into building numerical weather and ocean prediction models during the past 50 years. Less effort has gone into the visual representation of output from those forecast models and many of the techniques used are known to be ineffective. The effectiveness of a data display depends on how well critical patterns can be perceived. This paper outlines a set of perceptual principles for what makes a good representation of a 2D vector field and shows how these principles can be used for the portrayal of currents, winds, and waves. Examples are given from a series of evaluation studies that examine the optimal representation of these variables. The results suggest that for static graphic presentations, equally spaced streamlines may be optimal. If wind barbs are curved to follow streamlines, perception of local wind speed and direction as well as the overall pattern is improved. For animated portrayals of model output, animated streamlets can perceptually separate layers of information so that atmospheric pressure and surface temperature can clearly be shown simultaneously with surface winds.

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