Thursday, January 2, 2014

"NASA Sends “Big Data” in to the Cloud" by Melissa Prior

There is exciting news for earth scientists everywhere, and particularly web-savvy ones, with NASA’s announcement that they are to release a large amount of satellite data through a cloud storage facility. The data is concerned with the biggest earth science issue of the age – climate change - and is the product of the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), which is part of the NASA Advanced Supercomputer Facility in Moffett Field, California. The data is being made available thanks to a partnership between NASA and Amazon Web Services Inc., the cloud storage arm of the world’s largest online retailer. The purpose of the project is not only to educate young scientists but also to open the data to researchers from around the world.

A New Way to Use Data
NASA and AWS say that the agreement will showcase a new way of providing data services. The remote storage of the cloud has become a powerful force in computing in the last decade. The idea is much older than that, dating back to the early days of computing when remote terminals could be used to access the powerful, but usually extremely large, mainframe computers of the time. The internet has facilitated this process on a vast scale and allowed owners of large data centers – which often boasted huge amounts of spare capacity – to make their power available to users anywhere with access to the web. This networking can allow scientists to link up networks of computers to work on problems at vast distances and also allows access to the vast amount of data supercomputers can store to ordinary citizens and citizen scientists. NASA says it is uploading terabytes worth of data. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes and the average home computer has around eight gigabytes of memory.

What is Available?
Despite the end of its manned space programs, NASA remains one of the most powerful and well-resourced space exploration and observation projects on the planet. In recent years, the agency has turned its focus on its network of satellites and has put a particular focus on contributing to the understanding of climate change. This new service will release data from the Earth Observing System, NASA’s 1997-launched project to monitor the planet through a network of satellites and orbiting scientific instruments. Among the data sets that will be opened up are temperature, rain fall and forest cover observations. As well as the raw data, researchers and educational users will have access to some of the processing tools from NEX.
The Power of Networking, the Power of Knowledge
NASA also believe that they will gain through the process too. Sharing data opens it to researchers from around the world who may have new ideas and approaches which can shed light on climate change. Essentially, the space agency gains access to a massive network of possible collaborators – a human resources cloud. It is also a huge opportunity to educators and students, who can see earth science data from one of the best sources on the planet and concerning the biggest environmental issue of our time. Among the releases are NEX downscaled climate simulations, which predict, in high resolution, climate changes on the mainland USA. It is also possible to view the entire planet in images captured over one to two days by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer. Perhaps most exciting is the release of the entire Landsat data record, the US Geological Survey’s data of history’s longest lasting space observation of the planet.

More to Come

NASA says that this new partnership is part of what will be a continuing process of release of data to the world community. Cloud computing, says NASA, has made this data available for the first time to those who do not have access to powerful computers. This is a program of the Obama administration to open up US Government but in this case could benefit the whole world. You can learn more and find out how to access the data at AWS’s Open Data Set page and their NASA Nex link. Some educators, in the United States, may be eligible for grants to help them use the data and information on these are available on the site.

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