map colours onto data values in GDAL

This is a quick post originating from a discussion I had recently. Sometimes GIS data does not come with it’s original colour map but only as raw numbers. These raw numbers (classes) are fine for calculations, but rather limit the way you visualize things. Here, I’ll show how to map colours to the classes or ranges using the Geospatial Data Abstraction Library (GDAL).

All you need is a list of classes which you want to map to particular colours. The format of this colour table is rather flexible and is described in full on the GRASS r.colors page. For this particular example I used the colours of the 0.5 km MODIS-based Global Land Cover Climatology map, which translates into a table with 16 classes (I attached the table at the end of the blog post). You can download the data form the USGS website if you want to try this example (warning: large file – 4GB unzipped).



The above command might map the colours to the classes but the map still remains rather static. If you want to create a Google Earth compatible file (mapped onto a 3D sphere), you can do so by translating the file format. The resulting KML file should open in Google Earth if you have a copy running.

The full colour table for the image as linked to above is shown below.