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The graphical presentation of experimentally or theoretically generated data sets frequently involves the construction of contour plots. A general computer algorithm has been developed for the construction of contour plots. The algorithm provides for efficient and accurate contouring with a modular approach which allows flexibility in modifying the algorithm for special applications. The algorithm accepts as input data values at a set of points irregularly distributed over a plane. The algorithm is based on an interpolation scheme in which the points in the plane are connected by straight line segments to form a set of triangles. In general, the data is smoothed using a least-squares-error fit of the data to a bivariate polynomial. To construct the contours, interpolation along the edges of the triangles is performed, using the bivariable polynomial if data smoothing was performed. Once the contour points have been located, the contour may be drawn.

This program was released by NASA through COSMIC as ARC-11441. The italicized text above is from the official NASA release.

There are a number of other algorithms that compute contour lines. I would suggest a search of netlib. This algorithm permits the input of scattered data; many other algorithms require the data on a rectangular lattice.

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