Presenting Now — the Whole Earth!

May 29, 2014  - By
Earth observing satellites are generating big data sets.

Earth observing satellites are generating big data sets — Really Big!

I’m stepping in just for this month as a self-invited guest columnist, giving a brief look at the trailblazing work of the International Centre for Earth Simulation.

Look for both Eric Gakstatter and me at the ESRI User Conference in July, where Eric will also host a webinar on the hottest trends in mapping.  We hope to accommodate a live audience at the webinar. If you’re not attending ESRI, attend the webinar anyway! For a top-level look at conference doings, register free.

In easily the most mind-blowing presentation of the Geospatial World Forum held recently in Geneva, Bob Bishop of the International Centre for Earth Simulation spun a vision of Big Data Earth Science, using the world’s largest computing resources (talk of exoflops and exobytes and “the human mind cannot comprehend these large volumes of data” supplied by many orbiting imagery satellites and other sensor inputs) to model the Whole Earth: surface, subsurface, ocean, atmosphere, and social economics.

The Centre’s mission is “Helping guide the successful transformation of human society in an era of rapid climate change and frequent natural disasters.”

In its prospectus, Bishop writes “The key to solving problems in weather, climate and environmental science is high-performance computing. Nature can only be accurately described and computed from equations that take account of complex, non-linear interactions between multiple natural systems, i.e. rivers, lakes, oceans, mountains, forests, dust, pollution, cloud cover, snow cover, ice, polar regions, etc. Such equations of motion are so interconnected and intertwined that they can only be managed when all aspects are held in big memory and computed simultaneously. Only then can we begin to address the systemic risks associated with natural disasters and planetary change.”

The ICES Foundation supports Open Science, which incorporates a combination of open data files, open source code, and open access publications. Much of the data supplied by the following organizations, upon whose resources ICES draws, is either directly produced by or referenced to GPS/GNSS data: Global Observing Systems Information Center and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminisration; the European Space Agency and Centre for Space Records; the U.S. Geological Survey; the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the European Union’s Joint Research Center; the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research; the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory; the European Commission’s Infrastructure for Spatial Information in the European Community (INSPIRE); and many more.

Slides from Bishop’s Geneva presentation are available here. These, however, of necessity lack some of the video and Flash Player simulations that he showed at the conference, revealing truly a dynamic planet in all aspects.

Bishop warned of both sequential and synchronous collapse of natural systems, leading to cascading crises. His language and message bear some resemblance to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, but Bishop, whose previous 40-year professional career had him responsible for building and operating the international aspects of Silicon Graphics Inc., Apollo Computer Inc., and Digital Equipment Corporation, has assembled some actual practical tools to apply to the many problems.

The immediate goal is modeling, simulation, visualization, and ultimately understanding of the whole, leading to new forms of civic engagement and insights as to risk, safety, food, water, and energy.

About the Author: Alan Cameron

Alan Cameron is the former editor-at-large of GPS World magazine.

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