US: NASA announced that it will soon open a new high performance computing (HPC) and data facility that will give earth scientists access to four decades of satellite imagery and other datasets. Known as the NASA Earth Exchange (NEX), the facility is being promoted as a “virtual laboratory” for researchers interested in applying supercomputing resources to studying areas like climate change, soil and vegetation patterns, and other environmental topics.
In the last 10 years, more than 500 universities around the globe have used Landsat data to support their research. Over time though, the programme’s growth created a logistical problem. Multiple datasets eventually spanned facilities around the US, which presented challenges for researchers looking to retrieve satellite imagery. Recognising the issue, NASA created the NEX programme with the goal of increasing access to the three-petabyte library of Landsat data.
NEX will store all data generated by Landsat satellites and related datasets, as well as offer analysis tools powered by the agency’s HPC resources. Speaking to HPCwire, NASA AMES Earth scientist Ramakrishna Nemani said, “The main driver is really big data. Over the past 25 years we have accumulated so much data about the earth, but the access to all this data hasn’t been that easy.”
Prior to NEX, he said, researchers would be tasked with locating, ordering and downloading relevant data. The process could be time consuming because the satellite imagery they wanted could be housed at one or more locations. Even after locating the desired images, data transfer times would often be prohibitive.
The NEX programme also features a unique social networking element, which allows researchers to share their findings. It’s not uncommon for scientists to move on after working a particular topic. However, this reduces access to codes and algorithms utilised in their research. These social media tools provided by NEX allow peers to go back and verify the results of previous experiments. Combined with access to HPC and the legacy datasets, the facility provides what may be the most complete set of resources of its kind in the world.