ESRL Global Systems Division

GSD’s SOS Team at Users Collaborative Network Workshop

The sixth Science On a Sphere® (SOS) Users Collaborative Network Workshop was held June 10 - 12, 2014 in St. Paul, Minnesota at the Science Museum of Minnesota. The workshop was co-hosted by NOAA and the Science Museum of Minnesota, with support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. Its focus was to continue encouraging and facilitating the work done by the Network to optimize utilizing spherical display systems for providing educational messages. Attending the workshop were staff from the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)/Global Systems Division (GSD) SOS Team, led by GSD/Technology Outreach Branch Chief John Schneider. Also attending were members of the NOAA SOS Users Collaborative Network and invited groups who are working with the Network.

The goals and objectives of the workshop covered six overriding themes.

  1. Improve the effectiveness of each institution's use of SOS and other spherical platforms.
  2. Evolve best practices for content creation and interpretation.
  3. Expand the breadth of approaches for engaging the public with science through spherical display systems.
  4. Understand the impact spherical display systems have on learning Earth system science in informal science education settings.
  5. Continue to inform the future direction of the SOS Network.
  6. Continue to grow a cohesive and collaborative network that is actively sharing information, expertise, and content.

The GSD SOS Team delivered, or assisted in delivering, numerous presentations to the workshop attendees. Some of the topics included updates to the SOS Software Version 4.2, Q&A sessions with the GSD SOS Tech Support Team, and a presentation entitled Wind, Water, and Mountains - Ingredients of Regional Climate. In addition, the GSD Team led the SOS Explorer Working Group session and hosted a "SphereCast" with Space Weather Prediction Center scientist Rodney Viereck. One of the workshop Keynote addresses, "Low Carbon, Low Cost Wind and Solar Energy Systems are Feasible with Large Geographic Domains", was given by ESRL Director Sandy MacDonald via a remote video teleconference presentation from Boulder, Colorado.

SOS is a large visualization system that uses computers and video projectors to display animated data onto the outside of a sphere. It was invented by current ESRL Director Dr. Sandy MacDonald in 1995 when he came up with the concept for SOS (in his garage using a beach ball painted white and a 35mm slide projector) as an outgrowth of other visualization projects that he was directing within the former Forecast Systems Laboratory. Since that time, SOS has become an important part of educational programs in 110 museums and science centers in 16 countries. The SOS Program is administratively managed and technically supported by ESRL's GSD/Technology Outreach Branch.

Audiences around the world express excitement when they first see the rare view of the planet that an SOS presentation provides. As visualized on SOS, the Earth isn't sliced and spread out like it is on a flat map and it doesn't have rods poking through the poles like a globe. SOS displays a high-resolution view of Earth and other spherical bodies in our solar system that replicate what can be seen or sensed from satellites or modeled by supercomputers.

Researchers at NOAA/ESRL continue to develop and advance SOS as an educational tool to help illustrate Earth system science to people of all ages. Animated images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere, illustrating complex environmental processes in a way that is simultaneously intuitive and captivating. Using an iPad app, SOS presenters are able to effortlessly display, annotate, zoom, and layer the more than 450 data sets that are available for SOS.

SOS is a NOAA/ESRL program that has developed a revolutionary system for educating the public on the holistic nature of Earth's ever-changing oceans, atmosphere, and land, and on other planets. NOAA's global science is presented on SOS in new and exciting ways by providing engaging three-dimensional representations of our planet and others as if the viewers were looking at them from outer space. Through informal educational programs in science centers, universities, and museums across the country and globally, NOAA's educational program goals are extended through SOS by increasing the public understanding of our environment, knowledge of the Earth's land, oceans, and atmosphere, and knowledge of other bodies in our solar system.

Contact information
Name: John P Schneider
Tel: 303) 497-4646
john.p.schneider@noaa.gov