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IDL Helps Visualize Complex Earth Data in NOAA's "Science on a Sphere™" Project


Customer Challenge

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) needed to import various data sets onto a spherical representation of the Earth.

NOAA's mission is to support ecosystem management, climate change, freshwater supply and homeland security. In order to reach those goals, they needed to implement several programs to educate public audiences and increase understanding of environmental concerns. Alexcander MacDonald of NOAA had the vision was to create a mechanism that allowed the public to visualize many of the Earth's global features in a "real-life" view.

The SOS engineers encountered a challenge when trying to import data sets from other labs and scientific organizations onto the sphere. The SOS team obtained the data in multiple formats from so many different sources, and needed the right tools to handle all of them. To create an effective visualization, they needed the ability to conveniently aggregate and display the data sets from multiple viewing perspectives onto the sphere.

Solution Achieved

NOAA's Science on a Sphere™ (SOS) program is an innovative project designed to visually depict the Earth's climate, weather and oceans so the public can understand the Earth's systems and how they interact. IDL® has been instrumental in helping to project SOS scientific data sets onto a giant sphere in a visually stunning and educational demonstration. Alexander MacDonald, director of the NOAA Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, pioneered the SOS project. Intended for museums, science centers, schools and other scientific venues, SOS provides a dramatic visualization of complex information in an understandable form.

Key Benefits

  • The team can now look at real-time data on the sphere, and this allows them to use SOS not just a teaching tool, but a research tool as well.

  • IDL allows them to create custom programs with a fraction of the code-writing required in another language. IDL allowed them to quickly generate code to accurately project the atmospheric data set onto the sphere.

  • To create an effective visualization, IDL allowed them to conveniently aggregate and display the data sets from multiple viewing perspectives onto the sphere.