ESRL Global Systems Division

NOAA's Science On a Sphere® Has a USPS Stamp

The United States Postal Service (USPS) has included a Science On a Sphere® (SOS) image that combines NOAA/Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory (GFDL) sea surface temperature data and a NASA Landsat composite image on a forever stamp that was released on Earth Day 2014. The global climate model that inspired the stamp is a descendent of the first atmosphere-ocean model by Syukuro Manabe and Kirk Bryan in 1969 at the Geophysical Dynamics Lab in Princeton, New Jersey. The data and image were pulled from one of the over 450 datasets in the overall SOS library.

The uncommon round stamp is called Global: Sea Surface Temperatures. You can see this new Forever stamp with some explanation at (scroll down about three-fourths of the way down the page).

NOAA's SOS brought attention to this colorful image in a dataset based on the climate model output that can be seen on spheres in museums and science centers around the world. This is a great opportunity for NOAA to communicate the role of "environmental intelligence." A National Earth Day 2014 Event at the Department of Energy in Washington, DC had the First-Day-of-Issue unveiling by the USPS. Mark Schaefer, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Conservation and Management and NOAA Deputy Administrator, attended and called it a "fabulous tribute" to the agency's researchers. The story of the stamp is told in a 46-second YouTube video. The official unveiling can be seen in an Instagram video shot by NOAA's Bob Schwartz.

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 Earth System Research Laboratory (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 109 museums and science centers in 16 countries. The SOS Program is administratively managed and technically supported by ESRL’s Global Systems Division/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 datasets 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