Earth Data Screened as 3-D Wall to Wall Images

LA JOLLA, California, April 1, 2002 (ENS) - On large curved screens, 3-D visuals dramatize data showing the impact of global warming on Earth's climate and oceans. Sixty scientists in two auditoriums 44 miles apart view the images together and participate in a joint analysis of the data. The world's first visualization complex dedicated to Earth and ocean sciences is functioning.

In March, the University of California, San Diego Visualization Center opened at the Scripps' Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) in La Jolla.

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Scientists view data in a new way at Scripps Visualization Center (Photo courtesy Scripps, UCSD)
It is linked to a similar facility at San Diego State University through 44 miles of optical fiber, with optical switches and high resolution wall-sized screens at each end.

"Multiple researchers will now be able to collaborate in a whole new way - thanks to the huge screen and 3-D graphics that can immerse a roomful of viewers into a virtual environment, letting them share data in a way not possible until now," John Orcutt, IGPP director and professor of geophysics at Scripps.

The immersive environment created by the optically networked visualization centers allow groups of researchers at both locations to collaborate in real-time on large data sets in the form of 3-D images projected on the big screens.

The system is equipped with transmitters and liquid crystal display shutter glasses which permit stereographic 3-D viewing of high resolution images. The three projectors use advanced technology to automatically blend the edges where their video outputs meet.

Orcutt sees the centers as a potential prototype for a network of command and control centers to deal with crisis management and public safety during natural or civic disasters, displaying data and images from cameras and other sensors in the field.

The universities, together with the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology [Cal-(IT)2], are creating a prototype for such a command and control facility.

Larry Smarr, director of Cal-(IT)2 and a professor of computer science and engineering at University of California, San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering, says, "This is the first phase of our plan to build such living laboratories in southern California."

"Analysis facilities for complex scientific data sets can also serve as prototypes for real-time analysis of the environment or the health of civil infrastructure during and after natural or man-made disasters, if they are engineered with this dual use in mind," Smarr said.

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Pt. Loma, San Diego, California (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Seismic and climate studies for the High Tech Coast, from Santa Barbara to San Diego, will be analyzed first, and scientists will examine the variability in California's water supply.

Other initial studies will consider the interior structure of Earth, including its oceans and atmosphere, and fault related deformation as seen from space will be displayed on the big screens.

The large curved screen and 3-D projection system is built by Panoram Technologies, Inc., and powered by an SGI® Onyx® 3400 visualization system. "We are talking about at least 20 times the bandwidth of network television," says Theo Mayer, president and CEO of Panoram Technologies.

"A system like this one will change the way scientific visualization is done, just as it already has changed the working methods and cultures of industries such as oil and gas and aerospace that use high resolution computer imaging and modeling," he said.

For the first time ever, two immersive visualization centers are able to share wall-to-wall images in real time. The Visualization Center at Scripps is linked to SDSU's facility via high-bandwidth optical fiber installed by Cox Communications.

"This technology will empower researchers, urban planners and others to analyze satellite imagery, seismic hazards, bridge structures under stress and other 3-D data sets and collaborate more effectively for the public good," said Thomas Scott, Dean of San Diego State University's College of Sciences. "We see this link across San Diego eventually expanding across California - and someday the world."