The Data Farmers' Almanac

Raytheon-developed system helps climate scientists turn big data into usable insights

Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument

Southern Africa captured by the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instrument. [NASA image.]

A NASA big data system, developed and maintained by Raytheon, is helping scientists forecast the potential impact climate change may have on human health, safety and security issues worldwide.

The NASA Goddard Space Flight Center's earth science data program is tasked with a monumental mission: Use satellites, aircraft and ground sensors to collect a vast amount of information about our planet, and make all of that data — from temperature readings to high-resolution satellite imagery — available to the world.

In 1992, NASA and Raytheon developed the Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS) for archiving and sharing exponentially growing amounts of climate information. As storage technology evolved from tapes to data centers, Raytheon seamlessly migrated existing data to newer systems.

"We now have about 9.1 petabytes of data stored at 12 data centers. It's enough data to fill the Library of Congress 900 times," said Tim Ortiz, program manager at Raytheon.

Okpilak Glacier, Alaska. Left: June 1907. Right: August 5, 2004. NASA image.

Okpilak Glacier, Alaska. Left: June 1907. Right: August 5, 2004. NASA image.

EOSDIS was developed by Raytheon engineers in coordination with data and earth scientists, web developers and design experts. Over the years, Raytheon delivered incremental EOSDIS upgrades during regular operations, a practice known as "modernization through sustainment." Cutting-edge technologies — including advanced visualization and web-enabled access — were added with minimal interruption to operations. Raytheon's latest EOSDIS Evolution and Development (EED-2) contract award will allow continued operations, maintenance and sustainment support for the ever-expanding system.

Raytheon has deep expertise in environmental intelligence. The company's Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS) instruments on current and planned satellites provide data for advanced weather prediction, covering the globe every 14 hours. In addition to producing high-resolution images of the Earth (like the iconic "Blue Marble"), VIIRS collects data in 22 different spectral bands, providing critical information used by industries as diverse as agriculture and transportation, insurance and energy.

Do-It-Yourself Data

"Our job is to help NASA meet the needs of a growing user community," Ortiz said. "There are a lot of people around the world interested in this environmental data, and Raytheon develops systems to search and browse data sets with visualizations that help researchers develop deeper insights."

The Earthdata Search client within EOSDIS allows anyone with Internet access to download and analyze thousands of data sets. To simplify analysis, Raytheon developed powerful visualizations and a user-friendly interface.

For example, viewing data and images from 2012's Hurricane Sandy is as simple as visiting, entering the storm dates and zooming in on the East Coast. A search of the Boston area on January 27, 2015, would show a nor'easter that dumped a mountain of snow on Raytheon's global headquarters.

Data-Driven Disaster Response

"Access to truly global data sets makes it possible to track ripple effects as they spread across the planet," said Andy Nappi, Raytheon product manager and meteorologist. "The 2011 tsunami in Japan destroyed seaports, limiting access to an import-dependent economy. Food being grown in the United States may have been destined for Japan, so predicting harvest times from earth science data became important from a logistics, humanitarian and business standpoint."

Information gathered during disasters can also provide valuable lessons for the future.

"Data can't stop the next tsunami or this year's drought in California. But it will help prepare for the next disaster, allowing us to better react and recover," added Nappi.

Sierra Nevada Mountains

California is experiencing a severe drought. These images show reduced snowfall in the Sierra Nevada Mountains through 2011, 2013 and 2014. NASA image.

Big Data, Bigger Potential

The variety of uses for EOSDIS data is nearly unlimited. Because the information is free and publicly available, a vibrant global user community has grown along with the system.

"We will  continue improving the accessibility of the information, but the research community stuns us with some of the ways they put the data to use," added Ortiz. "It is not limited to scientists. We are seeing applications emerging for municipalities, states and tribal nations."

A tribal reservation, for example, may contain tracts of land affected by rivers or mountains beyond its borders. Annual land changes make it difficult to efficiently exploit local resources. Free access to environmental data analysis can help locate the best cropland, ranchland and water sources.

EOSDIS information has also been used by the medical community. During the 2002 West Nile Virus outbreak, NASA-backed researchers used the system to analyze vegetation, temperature and bird migration information, successfully predicting specific locations where the virus might be spreading.

While these insights were leveraged from NASA data, other research agencies worldwide are collecting their own massive data sets. To help their climate experts make this information as accessible as EOSDIS, Raytheon is developing solutions for processing and sharing environmental data from any source.

"The potential uses are only limited by our imagination," Ortiz said.

Published On: 08/28/2015
Last Updated: 01/11/2018