Sifting through the massive amount of climate and weather data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) can be daunting. However, a new tool released Tuesday brings that data to the masses and with a few clicks of the mouse or taps on the screen, creates interactive maps that clearly show natural and manmade shifts in the climate and oceans around the world.
The National Climatic Data Center alone contains over 6 petabytes of data. That’s enough data on ocean and land temperatures, cloud cover, rainfall, and other climate and weather indicators to fill more than 49,000 hard drives in the beefiest iPad Air. Other NOAA data centers house still more information on Arctic sea ice, the deep ocean, fisheries, and climate projections collected from satellites, weather stations, buoys, ocean sounds and computer models.
An animation made in NOAA View showing monthly shifts in sea surface temperatures around the globe.
Most of that data is free and publicly available. However, just because it’s available doesn’t mean it’s centralized or intuitive to access, let alone figure out what to do with it once it’s on your desktop. NOAA’s new effort aims to sidestep those issues and let the public explore cloud cover, salinity levels in the depths of the ocean, and everything in between.
The tool, called NOAA View, offers easy access to 60 NOAA datasets that go back to 1880 as well as future climate model simulations. Dan Pisut, who manages NOAA’s Environmental Visualization Program, said the initial datasets were chosen based on the data most accessed by news organizations and museums.
“We wanted to build something where somebody that doesn’t want to crunch all the numbers can still see an image,” Pisut said. “After all, an image is worth a thousand words.”
To get those images, users can browse datasets by category and time period. Behind the scenes, hundreds of computer programs churn that data into beautiful maps that can show variables for a specific period or how they change over time.
An animation made in NOAA View showing weekly changes in vegetation from May 2013 through October 2013.