Points on x-y plots
can also be called:
How do I plot points on a graph?
Plotting geologic data in x-y space
Why should I plot points?
In the geosciences, we deal with large volumes of data, both observational and measured. This may be in the form of climate data, rock chemistry, elevation measurements, seismic data, etc. We generally compile data into tables and when we want to know the relationship of one variable to another, one of the easiest ways to do that is to put that data on a plot. Take the table of data to the right. Just looking at it (you can click on the image to open a bigger version in a new window), can you tell what the general trend in CO2 values has been for the past 50 years? Has the trend changed in the past 10 years? How about the last 5 years of record? Does the data vary from month to month? Are there seasonal cycles? So many questions! And they can all be answered with a simple x-y plot.
Where is graphing used in the geosciences?
Geoscientists use graphs to illustrate all kinds of issues in the science. In introductory geoscience courses, you may be asked to plot data in conjunction with units that deal with:
- rock compositions
- topographic maps
- streams and floods
- and almost any topic that might be covered in your course
Simple rules for plotting points
Any plot or graph that has two axes is an x-y (or bivariate) plot. One axis (generally, the horizontal one) is the "x-axis" and the other (the vertical one) is considered the "y-axis". But, you can use any variable for either one, all you need is a data set that has two sets of related data. Below there is an example of a set of data points for how basalt melting temperatures change deeper in the Earth.
When we plot data on a graph, there are several steps that you can follow to make sure that you don't forget anything:
- Make sure that you have two variables to work with (two columns of data). In the case of the table above, the two variables are depth (km) and basalt melting temperature (°C).
- Decide which of the variable is going to be represented on the x-axis and which will be on the y-axis. In some cases, you will be provided with a graph that has the axes labeled.
- Label the axes on your plot and determine the appropriate scale (if the graph is not already labeled).
- Begin by plotting the first two pairs of numbers (the top row of numbers).
- Continue to plot pairs of points from the table (in rows) until you have plotted all the points.
- Your final graph should have the same number of points as pairs of data in your table.
You can download and print a sheet with the steps on it here (Acrobat (PDF) PRIVATE FILE 35kB Sep10 08).