What is a ternary plot?

A ternary plot is a useful chart for vizualing three variables which sum to a constant. This constant is usually 1.0 or 100%.

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Let's add some labels to our axes! Suppose we have a soil sample that consists of three soil types: sand, silt, and clay.

These three together form 100% of our soil sample.

There are three axes, one for each component. In each "corner" of the triangle we're at 100% of one of the elements. On the axis opposite to the corner, the element is at 0%.

On this line, silt is 0%. Then our soil sample consists only of clay and sand. On this line clay is 0%. And on this line sand is 0%

Now suppose a soil sample consists of 20% sand and 80% silt, and consequently; 0% clay. The point must be located on the axis opposite to clay, because there is no clay in this sample.

This is the 80% silt line and this is the 20% sand line. The point is at the intersection of these lines.

Let's do one more, this time with all three! This sample consists of 30% clay, 40% silt and 30% sand.

This is the 30% clay line, this is the 40% silt line, and this here is the 30% sand line.

Once again the point follows from the intersection of the lines. Because the three proportions cannot vary independently, really only two lines are necessary to find the point.

I hope you understand how a ternary plot works now! Now go ahead and make a bunch of ternary plots and let your colleagues/friends know about this site.

Some helpful additional pages about ternary diagrams:

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