IDL Helps the Public Visualize Complex Earth Data
Boulder, Colorado, April 17, 2003 - Research Systems, Inc. (RSI), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company, announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is using RSI's IDL Software to support its NOAA Science on a Sphere(tm) (SOS) program. SOS is an innovative project designed to visually depict the Earth's global features using visualization tools such as IDL and other advanced technologies. By projecting data onto a giant sphere for a visually stunning and educational demonstration, SOS is intended for use in museums, science centers, schools and other scientific venues.
"NOAA plays an extremely important role in studying the Earth and the atmosphere. We wanted to display all of the agency's great research in a way that makes sense to all audiences - in the form of a sphere," said David Himes, senior software engineer for SOS. "By using computers along with video projection and visualization technologies such as IDL, we can look at complex data intuitively and proportionate to scale. This helps everyone understand the dynamic relationships between the different Earth systems, land, oceans and atmosphere."
Using high-speed computers, projectors and advanced imaging techniques in a multimedia setting, SOS creates the illusion of a planet, the sun, the moon and other celestial bodies. The fiberglass sphere acts as a 3-D "movie screen" onto which images are projected to represent various scientific data sets, including satellite data, weather data and ocean data.
SOS engineers use IDL Software to import data sets from other labs and scientific organizations and quickly project them onto the sphere. According to Kevin Brundage, a research associate for NOAA's Regional Analysis and Prediction Branch, IDL is instrumental for handling scientific data sets from so many different sources and in multiple formats. IDL helps NOAA conveniently aggregate and display the data sets from multiple viewing perspectives onto the sphere.
"All of my IDL code, including code for the GUI interface, was only a couple of hundred lines long. I'd hate to do this all by hand," said Brundage. "Importing data from other labs from within and outside of NOAA was a new problem, and projecting it became difficult. IDL really solved this issue. Using IDL, we were able to get the data accurately projected in a day," he added.
Brundage used IDL to convert data from a variety of sources, including numerical forecast models showing weather predictions, climate simulations showing the effects on temperature as greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, and other simulations. Brundage also wrote an IDL application that allows SOS to read (atmospheric data) in near real-time, interpolate it and feed it to the SOS system.
"IDL is a very sophisticated tool. Our ability to take scientific data from a variety of sources and push them onto the sphere opened up lots of avenues - we can now use data we weren't able to use before," said Himes.
Alexander MacDonald, director of the NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., pioneered the SOS project. MacDonald had a vision to create a mechanism that allowed the public to visualize many of the Earth's climate, weather and oceans in a "real-life" view.
"I knew that putting NOAA climate, weather, oceanic and geophysical data on a sphere would be a spectacular tool for explaining NOAA's science to a variety of audiences," said MacDonald.
More information about the SOS project can be found on the following Web site: http://www.fsl.noaa.gov/sos/
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) conducts research and gathers data about the global oceans, atmosphere, space, and sun, and applies this knowledge to science and service that touch the lives of all Americans. The main components of NOAA include the National Weather Service, National Ocean Service, National Marine Fisheries, NOAA Research, and the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service.
About Research Systems Inc. Research Systems Inc. (RSI), a wholly owned subsidiary of Eastman Kodak Company, provides high-performance software solutions that help scientists, engineers, researchers and medical professionals turn complex data into useful information. RSI's 150,000 customers from over 80 countries use RSI technology to visualize and analyze large, complex sets of data and develop, deploy and manage imaging applications. The company's solutions are used in diverse industries including medicine, remote sensing, engineering, earth sciences, aerospace and defense, oil and gas exploration and biotechnology. Customized consulting, on-site training and technical support services complement RSI's suite of software solutions. Founded in 1977, RSI is Boulder, Colo.-based and has offices in France, Italy and the United Kingdom.