17 July 2017

Displaying global data with NOAA’s Science On a Sphere (SOS)

Posted by Laura Guertin

While attending the NASA Social for the JPSS-1 satellite at the NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) in Boulder, I was able to visit the “home base” of where the first Science On a Sphere (SOS) was created. You may have seen a SOS display yourself at one of the 145 installations across the globe (I saw my first one at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC). Below is a video introduction from Dr. Sandy MacDonald, the inventor of NOAA’s Science On a Sphere, highlighting some of the features of this powerful data visualization tool.

As scientists and educators, we are constantly seeking ways to engage audiences ranging from our students to the general public with scientific data. Although having a six-foot diameter glowing sphere would be quite an effective tool, it is never going to happen on my campus. Fortunately, NOAA SOS has many additional options for sharing these powerful data sets (over 500 available) on a spatial and temporal scale.

The NOAA Science On a Sphere website shares information on flatscreen versions of SOS – the SOS Explorer (SOSx – exhibit quality with ~115 data sets (and real-time), at a cost) and SOS Explorer Lite (introductory/free, 16 included datasets).  The Lite version also has pre-programmed educational tours, with three examples detailed online. You can check out the equipment requirements to see which option may work better for your situation.


If you are looking for students to explore the SOS data on their own without you as a “sage on the stage” and without downloading any software, there are videos posted in YouTube and on the SOS Facebook page that will still showcase these global data sets. I’ve included some of the videos below that may be of interest and relevant to students/courses (video captions taken from YouTube):

This animation of daily snow and ice cover over the course of the year 2014 was created from the real-time snow and ice cover dataset. Read more about it here.

This data set shows the distribution of carbon dioxide in the “free troposphere”, which is the lower atmosphere below the tropopause, but above the surface-dominated planetary boundary layer. CO2 distributions are displayed for every day from 2000 through 2010. The large variations in CO2 seen here are caused by surface sources and sinks of CO2, coupled with transport of CO2 plumes by weather systems. The resulting patterns seen here are called “carbon weather”. Read more about it here.

In this dataset, the simulation from NOAA’s HYSPLIT model shows a continuous release of tracer particles from 12-31 March at a rate of 100 per hour representing the Cesium-137 emitted from Fukushima Daiichi. Each change in particle color represents a decrease in radioactivity by a factor of 10. Radioactivity decreases due to removal by rainfall and gravitational settling. Decay is not a factor for Cesium in this short duration simulation compared to its 30 year long-half life. The air concentration would be computed from the particle density so it is only partially related to the color scale. The released particles are followed through the end of April using meteorological data from the 1-degree resolution NOAA global analyses. Read more about it here.


Some of the short video clips posted on the NOAA Science On a Sphere Facebook page are more recent datasets and animations than are currently posted in YouTube. These examples include (video captions from Facebook):

1960 Chile Tsunami

On this day 57 years ago, the largest earthquake ever recorded by instruments struck southern Chile with a magnitude we now know to be at least 9.5. This earthquake generated a tsunami that traveled through every ocean on earth, though large, dangerous waves only impacted the coastlines around the Pacific Ocean. Read more about this event and the dataset from the US NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center here: https://sos.noaa.gov/Datasets/dataset.php?id=613

Posted by NOAA Science On a Sphere on Monday, May 22, 2017

Fifty-seven years ago from May 22, 2017, the largest earthquake ever recorded by instruments struck southern Chile with a magnitude we now know to be at least 9.5. This earthquake generated a tsunami that traveled through every ocean on earth, though large, dangerous waves only impacted the coastlines around the Pacific Ocean. Read more about this event from the US NWS Pacific Tsunami Warning Center here. Read more about the dataset here.

Age of the Seafloor

The surface of the Earth is a mosaic of tectonic plates that move. New sea floor is created in areas where the plates pull apart, allowing new crustal material to be formed from the molten magma below the Earth's surface. In this dataset, red is young sea floor and purple is old sea floor (280 million years old). Read more here: https://sos.noaa.gov/Datasets/dataset.php?id=119

Posted by NOAA Science On a Sphere on Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The surface of the Earth is a mosaic of tectonic plates that move. New sea floor is created in areas where the plates pull apart, allowing new crustal material to be formed from the molten magma below the Earth’s surface. In this dataset, red is young sea floor and purple is old sea floor (280 million years old). Read more about the dataset here.

Urban Heat Islands

Feeling the heat this summer? Urban areas can be as much as 7°F (4°C) warmer than surrounding rural areas! Learn why in this new ClimateBits dataset for SOS on urban heat islands! https://sos.noaa.gov/Datasets/dataset.php?id=668

Posted by NOAA Science On a Sphere on Thursday, July 6, 2017

Feeling the heat this summer? Urban areas can be as much as 7°F (4°C) warmer than surrounding rural areas! Learn why in this new ClimateBits dataset for SOS on urban heat islands! Read more about it here.

 

I look forward to diving deeper into these data sets and seeing how students interact with and learn from this visualization tool!