SGI Visualization Technology Powers San Diego State University's 3D Geospatial Mapping to Fuel Hurricane Relief Efforts

Once the data is uploaded to SDSU's Web site, any number of researchers and government agencies, or the public can use it. One of the most powerful uses of the data was for locating toxicity and medical data onto the images; and helping interpret the ongoing stream of environmental and monitoring data that are currently being collected by many groups who are helping with the decision-making for the future of the region and people. Duke University Professor Marie Lynn Miranda, a specialist in children's environmental health, considers lead contamination levels one of the biggest issues in the recovery. Professor Miranda is leading the National Institute for Environmental Health and Safety (NIEHS) effort, and the Visualization Center at SDSU is providing the computation power on the Silicon Graphics Prism system for the work she and others are doing. Researchers at UCSD who work with NIEHS on Superfund site efforts, including Professors Bob Tukey and Mark Ellisman, connected SDSU and its imaging capabilities with Professor Miranda and her GIS expertise and strategic position in helping decision-makers understand what the problems were and what possible solutions might be. Researchers like Professors Miranda, Tukey and Ellisman are using the completed data sets, adding census data and on-going environmental measurements, to attempt to determine areas where people could move back to or sections where people -- especially children who are more likely to develop severe physical problems from exposure to high lead levels -- should never return. Being able to serve the terabytes of imagery and GIS data to researchers and field workers both in the affected area and in decision centers focused on helping the people of all the affected states will be something that should provide a significant service to the nation for many years to come as the long-term medical impacts of Katrina and other hurricanes come to light.

"To really do the right thing for the people ravaged by Katrina, it takes a massive amount of data fusion -- compositing the toxicity and damage data with imagery and then tracking the changes through time," said John Graham, the Visualization Center's Senior Research Scientist who helped lead the effort with processing and building the social network of specialists who made the Silicon Graphics Prism perform so remarkably. "When you're working with satellite and aerial photography, you can be dealing with multiple terabytes of data. This is where the Silicon Graphics Prism system really shows off the power of its shared-memory architecture, with its ability to take all the bricks and connect them to appear as one large computer with lots of memory. Then taking the geo-referenced imagery and 'cooking' it into GeoFusion OpenGL texture format and storing it on high-speed servers, allowing anybody with a Windows PC that has a OpenGL video card and Internet Explorer -- which almost all new machines do -- to use the ActiveX web browser plugin and fly through those terabytes of data. But it's SGI technology, processing the data on the backend, that is making this all possible."

Needed Now: 10GigE

While gratified by the huge amount of work by fellow scientists, researchers, and the numerous volunteers it took to deliver these data sets to help Katrina victims, including GeoFusion, who wrote code to help everything move even faster, Frost envisions much faster access to the original data, both through networks like the National Lambda Rail (, a dark-fiber grid used by universities, and by the addition of 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GigE) connections, especially at government facilities like the EROS Data Center and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, as well as numerous groups in the Washington, DC area such as the Navy Research Lab and the OSSIM researchers who were involved with the effort. SDSU's first source of Katrina data was the national center for data, the U.S. Geological Survey Center's Earth Resources Observation & Science (EROS) Data Center, in Sioux Falls, SD. When Graham first accessed EROS to download the data and FTP it, the screen said, "Estimated time: 218 hours" for one data set. All the datasets needed were eventually downloaded to disk and FedEx'ed or flown to SDSU.

"With National Lambda Rail, the fiber-optic network is mostly already there, including to places like Louisiana State University in the heart of the area that was impacted. The ideas and management are already there," concluded Frost, "as this is something that visionaries like Larry Smarr, Director of Calit2 and Principal Investigator for the OptIPuter project ( have been working on for several years. If there were more 10 GigE boxes around, and the agreements in place before-hand, all the major SGI facilities could be connected, as well as the data sources, visualization facilities, and command-and-control centers for data fusion and decision support. People who have the right kinds of machines and the right software could immediately start making their CPUs available for ingesting the data, processing this data, and serving it out. We could make an incredible impact on our country's ability to be ready for natural disasters and continue to process and serve out data as it comes in, as cleanup continues to take place. That would be profoundly in the national interest. This same effort can be done internationally and fits with efforts such as iGrid 2005 ( ), which was led by Tom DeFanti and Maxine Brown, two of the leading fiber and people networkers in the world. At iGrid last month, we showed off Katrina data running via SGI OpenGL Vizserver software over 15,000 km of fiber from San Diego to Chicago to Seattle to Tokyo with John Graham running the keyboard and mouse in the Calit2 building in San Diego. Similar sharing of resources internationally over 1 GigE and 10 GigE networks could revolutionize our ability to help people around the world and to have the world help the world."

"It is clear that scientific visualization has reached a new and powerful level to model, predict and plan for natural disasters," said Bob Bishop, chairman and CEO of SGI. "The Visualization Center at San Diego State University offers a clear demonstration of how this technology can be used to triumph over adversity."

See related November 1, 2005 press release: "Calit2 at UC San Diego Selects SGI Visualization and Storage Technology".

SILICON GRAPHICS | The Source of Innovation and Discovery(TM)

SGI, also known as Silicon Graphics, Inc., is a leader in high-performance computing, visualization and storage. SGI's vision is to provide technology that enables the most significant scientific and creative breakthroughs of the 21st century. Whether it's sharing images to aid in brain surgery, finding oil more efficiently, studying global climate, providing technologies for homeland security and defense or enabling the transition from analog to digital broadcasting, SGI is dedicated to addressing the next class of challenges for scientific, engineering and creative users. With offices worldwide, the company is headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., and can be found on the Web at

NOTE: Silicon Graphics, SGI, OpenGL, the SGI cube and the SGI logo are registered trademarks and OpenGL Vizserver, Silicon Graphics Prism and The Source of Innovation and Discovery are trademarks of Silicon Graphics, Inc., in the United States and/or other countries worldwide. Intel and Itanium are trademarks or registered trademarks of Intel Corporation or its subsidiaries in the United States and other countries. Linux is a registered trademark of Linus Torvalds. All other trademarks mentioned herein are the property of their respective owners.

     Lisa Pistacchio
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