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Developer(s) Zuse Institute Berlin, Lenné3D
Initial release May 21, 2007
Stable release
1.9.2123.0 / October 23, 2010
Development status Active
Written in C++, OpenGL 2.0
Operating system Windows, Cross-platform
Available in English
Type Virtual globe
License MPL

Biosphere3D is an open source project that targets interactive landscape scenery rendering based on a virtual globe. The software system supports multiple scales but focuses primarily on the creation of realistic views from eye-level (First Person View) or near ground level. The software is released under the MPL license and developed by Zuse Institute Berlin, Lenné3D and the open source community for use on personal computers.


Biosphere3D was released for the first time in 2007 by Dept of Visualization and Data Analysis at Zuse Institute Berlin. Applications are in Landscape planning, Landscape architecture, visual impact assessment, e.g. of Wind farms, Power stations, Land use planning, Archaeology, Urban planning, and forestry enabling to wander through landscape scenarios or virtually reconstructed historical landscape and gardens. Biosphere3D, initially funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (Germany) within the R&D project ‘SILVISIO’, has been designed as a pure landscape visualization system. Modeling of landscape features occurs in external applications such as Geographic information systems (GIS), simulation models with GIS data output, and 3D CAD tools such as SketchUp. Users can interact with the globe by rotating it, tilting the view, and zooming in and out. 3D scenes are composed based on the import of digital elevation model (DEM) data, image raster files, ESRI shapefiles, Collada and kml/kmz files, e.g. from SketchUp or Trimble 3D Warehouse. Three-dimensional plant models can be loaded with distribution maps (Point or MultiPoint Shapefiles or OIX plant distribution files) and positioned on the terrain model. Building blocks can be generated from footprints based on Polygon Shapefiles. The height of the blocks can be interactively edited per Layer in the Object Layer parameters.

The software system supports multiple terabytes of terrain data due to the spherical clipmaps rendering and the efficient data management.[1][2] Any raster file format is supported, which can be read by the open source library GDAL but Geodata must be in geographic coordinates and WGS 84. The data structures used by Biosphere3D require no or short pre-processing steps; so all data can be modified on the fly with minimal turn around times. This facilitates quick 3D scene generation and a semi-interactive workflow. Biosphere3D exports Portable Network Graphics (PNG) and in the high dynamic range imaging image file format OpenEXR in virtual resolutions as stills and animations. Other features of Biosphere3D include support for advanced visual effects such as physics-based atmospheric scattering, Screen Space Ambient Occlusion, sun shading, and water shading (currently only one global water level is supported).

Computer requirements[edit]

Hardware requirements[edit]

  • Minimum requirements: a standard dual core PC and 256 MB RAM (=but no fun!) and a GPU supporting OpenGL 2.0.
  • 4 GB of RAM and 1024 MB GPU RAM are recommended.
  • Graphics processing unit (GPU). In theory, Intel GPUs should also work (?).
  • Graphics quality and performance will benefit from more cores, more RAM, and faster GPUs.

Software requirements[edit]

  • Windows XP or Vista or Windows 7.
  • x64 bit systems are recommended.
  • Make sure that you keep your GPU drivers up-to-date.
  • You can also use the OpenGL Extensions Viewer [3] to verify that OpenGL 2.0 is supported.


Source code is OS portable (Source code to work with many OS platforms) but currently, only Windows x86 and x64 is supported. The source code is hosted at Zuse Institute Berlin. Read-only access is available for everyone. Write access is granted on request.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Clasen, M. and Hege, H.-C. 2006. Terrain Rendering using Spherical Clipmaps. Eurographics/ IEEE-VGTC Symposium on Visualization, 9 pp.
  2. ^ Clasen, M. and Hege, H.-C. 2007. Clipmap-based Terrain Data Synthesis, SimVis 2007, 14 pp.
  3. ^ OpenGL Extensions Viewer

Further reading[edit]

  • Paar, P. and Clasen, M. 2007. Earth, Landscape, Biotope, Plant. Interactive visualisation with Biosphere3D. Proc. at CORP, 12th International Conference on Urban Planning & Regional Development in the Information Society, Vienna: 207-214.
  • Sheppard, S.R.J. and Cizek, P. 2009. The ethics of Google Earth: Crossing thresholds from spatial data to landscape visualisation. Journal of Environmental Management, 90 (6): 2102-2117.

External links[edit]