NASA supercomputer launches to boost Earth research

Global Earth scientists remain a challenge - but with the opening of a new data access facility, NASA hopes to launch the next chapter of discovery.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is close to launching a new data access facility aimed at furthering research efforts in the field of global Earth science.

Using enhanced Landsat Earth-observing data, the agency is making the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX) available to researchers across the globe.


The high-performance computing facility is a virtual laboratory which provides access to global, high-resolution satellite observations and imagery -- allowing researchers and scientists to take advantage of NASA's supercomputing capabilities to further their own studies and projects -- especially useful if they are hampered by a lack of computing power themselves.

According to the agency, the NASA Earth Exchange will allow individuals to analyze large Earth science data sets in a fraction of the time it would take using standard computing capacities. Scientists are able to produce complex, interdisciplinary studies of world phenomena and share their findings instantly with each other through the NEX platform.

Tsengdar Lee, high-end computing program manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington said:

"Because of the large volume of high-resolution Landsat data, scientists who wanted to study the planet as a whole prior to NEX needed to invest tremendous amounts of time and effort to develop high-end computational methods rather than focus on important scientific problems. NEX greatly simplifies researchers' access to and analysis of high-resolution data like Landsat."

Developed by a team at Ames, the platform contains a large collection of global data sets, analysis tools, surface weather records, topography, soils, land cover and global climate simulations contributed by NASA and other agencies. Landsat data in particular is hosted by NEX, which constitutes a large collection of images collected over 40 years by a series of satellite sensors. 

NEX also combines Earth-system modeling and remote-sensing data with a laboratory environment -- allowing researchers to complete tasks including modeling algorithms, project collaboration and result exchanges instantly. Satellite scenes can also be merged together to create snapshots of land patterns, such as global vegetation trends containing more than a half-trillion pixels in less than 10 hours.

"The science community is under increasing pressure not only to study recent and projected changes in climate that likely impact our global environment and natural resources, but also to design solutions to mitigate, or cope, with the likely impacts," said Rama Nemani, a senior Earth scientist at NASA's Ames Research Center.

"We want to change the research paradigm by bringing large data holdings and supercomputing capabilities together, so researchers have everything they need in one place."

The launch of the NEX facility may be able to cut costs traditionally associated with research -- including the manpower and time required to review and analyze large data sets. By allowing scientists to collaborate virtually, not only may the platform further speed up the process, but save researchers from the redundant retrieval and analysis of data sets others have already completed.

The Landsat program is a joint venture by NASA and the Interior Department.