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Data in Action: From Petabytes to Practical Uses

In offices and labs, data are applied to everyday uses

Image of global dbSEABED data from July 2015 by Instaar, University of Colorado
Courtesy of dbSEABED

For such a small word, “data” hold a lot of potential. Data solve problems, promote understanding, facilitate discovery, and can germinate the next big idea.

In our series, Data in Action, we highlight the uses of NCEI’s treasure trove of environmental data gathered from the surface of the sun to the depths of the ocean, and everywhere in between. Our data support innovation, enterprise, and decision-making in science, business, health, and many other fields.

NCEI: Data in Action

All types of organizations and people need information from our data archives for a variety of reasons. Needs drive the uses of environmental data, not just the requirements of scientists who conduct research. Last year alone, customers directly accessed more than 9 petabytes of environmental data online from NCEI. A petabyte is equal to 1 million gigabytes; data in a single petabyte equals about 3.4 years of 24/7 full high-definition video recording.

Here are a few recent examples of how our data add value to many endeavors:

NCEI Data Supports Actuaries Climate Index

A partnership of actuaries in the United States and Canada uses NCEI data to produce the Actuaries Climate Index (ACI). The ACI is a tool to help actuaries, public policymakers, as well as the general public, make decisions that could be impacted by extreme weather and sea level. The objective is to provide perspective and information about key climate impacts that have happened since 1961. The Index examines changes in the frequency and duration of extreme temperatures (highs and lows), heavy precipitation, drought, and strong wind, as well as changes in sea level.

The ACI uses the Global Climatology Historical Network-Daily (GHCN-D) database to develop indices of temperature, drought, and rainfall. GHCN-D, a summary of daily of land-based observations of several variables such as temperature and precipitation, also forms a foundation for other datasets used by ACI.

The Index, available for 12 U.S. and Canadian regions, also includes information about wind and sea level. Another NOAA office, Earth Science Research Laboratory, supports the index with wind data.

Large Data to GeoMapApp

NCEI supports the data needs of developers of GeoMapApp, which allows users to visualize geophysical data. The app creates maps of diverse bathymetric and topography datasets and magnetic anomaly data that can help determine ocean age and evolution. GeoMapApp allows scientists to easily plot their own work next to other published data and grids for comparison and study.

Developed and maintained by the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) of Columbia University, the software relies on updated bathymetry, magnetics, seismic, and gravity data from NCEI and other sources. Data available through GeoMapApp is hosted by LDEO’s Marine Geoscience Data System, as well as over 100 other data repositories.

Initially, LDEO used NCEI’s online portal, the geophysics trackline web viewer, to download data to populate the app. Since the initial download 10 years ago, NCEI has stewarded more than 1,000 new surveys, too many to discover, download, and ingest by LDEO without assistance. To address this challenge, NCEI and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) created a new way to retrieve data that quickly assimilates large data requests into custom packages. The change makes data discoverable by users of GeoMapApp, as well as prepares NCEI for future large requests.

dbSEABED Project

Our entire collection of seafloor sediment data supports seabed sediment mappings for the dbSEABED Project, which creates unified, detailed maps and images for studying the seafloor and the ocean environment. dbSEABED is a collaboration between the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research and NOAA’s Marine Geology and Geophysics team. NCEI curates the seafloor sediment data, an essential component to this integrated product. Containing over 200,000 rows of detailed seafloor geological information, NCEI data provide a bulk source of information for dbSEABED.

Needs for information about the seafloor continue to grow as humans—and technology—push farther and more often into the deep sea. Public and private expeditions and projects call for information on what may be encountered at the seabed sites prior to reaching the location. The information assists in setting up experiments, laying cables, estimating environmental impacts, and regulating activities in the ocean environment.

Researchers recently used dbSEABED to analyze sediment “pickup” during Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which occurred nearly back-to-back in late August and early September 2008. Hurricane wave data were combined with data from dbSEABED and bathymetry data to model sediment suspension, or pickup, which occurred during the storms.

dbSEABED data have also assisted in other ways:

  • Managing WWII munitions in the North Sea
  • Developing science-based deep-sea fishing regulations near the Falkland Islands
  • Anchoring renewable energy barges located offshore of Cyprus
  • Improving design for coexistence of shipping harbors and the Great Barrier Reef
  • Building eco-trophic models of oysters at diversions near Louisiana
  • Computing the geography of human-caused carbon releases in the deep North Atlantic

NCEI data on seabed properties is a large component of satisfying these needs. The demand for seabed data, in integrated form, is greater than ever.

Check NCEI News for more coverage about our archive, science, and uses of our data.