A few posts ago, we reviewed how big data analytics accelerate and can expand the range of visualizations used in academe and the wider world.

Data scientists are working with meteorologists, oceanographers, astronomers and software designers to use new visual analytics capabilities. Some are creating awe-inspiring visuals about the weather. Others are getting a remote, up-to-the-minute view of organisms and processes in the ocean.

Bringing the Weather Indoors
From simulations of tornadoes to sophisticated infographics of El Nino and wildfires, weather visuals are seeing an explosion of innovation.

  • The Weather Channel has been a hub for detailed weather information on cable TV for more than 30 years. The channel is well known for its visually stunning content on both TV and online. Recently, they created scientifically accurate simulations of hail, lightning, even tornadoes, right inside their TV studios. The app uses sensors, which communicate with one another at up to 250 frames per second as the camera shoots video in the field and transmits it to TWC facilities. The result is that the presenter is free to move around an image of a tornado.
  • The Weather Underground is known for emphasizing the science of the weather, especially in their popular infographics and other visualizations. A vibrant community of about 120,000 weather enthusiasts contribute data from their own weather stations at home or their businesses. They measure everything from temperature and humidity to wind speed and barometric pressure.
  • The Orange County Fire Authority works with meteorologists to visualize data for the state’s many wildfires. Authority team members fly over fires to access data every night by using infrared technology. They enter the data and weather information to remote computers. Hours later, crews know where to find the hot zones and exact fire perimeters. Before, someone would have to walk the fire line and map it by hand, a slow and perhaps dangerous task.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for software designers is to figure out the most important weather questions that people might have and transform the answers into useful, compelling visuals. Now, scientists, analysts and public officials have powerful tools that provide relevant answers.

In the Skies and Oceans, Researchers Build Big Data Research Tools

Scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle have no problems thinking of research questions to ask. Their dilemma is what to do with the data they collect. Like many researchers, they spend more time wrangling data than actually doing science.

For example, SeaFlow, a research instrument developed in the lab of UW School of Oceanography, analyzes 15,000 marine microorganisms per second, generating up to 15 gigabytes of data every single day of a typical multi-week oceanographic research cruise.

In every field of discovery, investigators don’t have the means to cope with the data deluge. The university’s eScience Institute connects researchers with experts in large-scale data management, data analysis, data visualization, machine learning and related fields. Researchers gain the skills and tools they need to work with increasingly enormous data sets, while data scientists grapple with real-world problems.

Collaborators Find Faster and Better Ways to Answer Research Questions
eScience Institute experts give university researchers advice in dealing with massive streams of data generated by the SeaFlow instrument. This has led to the development of SQLShare, a web-based tool that makes database technology accessible to non-oceanographers.

University scientists have used eScience assets for remote studies in the ocean and the solar system. These include:

  • Describing different types of phytoplankton — the base of the marine food web – at different locations and water depths.
  • Figuring out how the salt level in seawater affects the location and population of a species of virus.
  • Detecting asteroids to help reconstruct the evolution of the solar system.
  • Identifying which asteroids might slam into the earth.
  • Developing algorithms that can detect objects that move like asteroids on researchers’ telescopic images,

Another important part of these scientists’ work is to open the field of remote data analysis and visualization to all scientists, not just data experts. The contributions of everyone associated with the eScience Institute, other UW scientists and those working in the commercial sphere are moving this goal forward at a rapid pace.