ESRL Global Systems Division

Science On a Sphere® Takes Center Stage at World Science Festival

From Wednesday, May 28 through Sunday, June 1 NOAA's Science On a Sphere® (SOS) was a feature attraction at the World Science Festival (WSF) held in New York City and at New York University (NYU). The World Science Festival is a production of the Science Festival Foundation, a non-profit organization headquartered in New York City. The Foundation's mission is to "cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future."

There were many speakers who used SOS to do scientific talks and question/answer sessions with scientists. Saturday and Sunday featured a full schedule of varied talks from "Take Cover! Extreme Weather and Forecasting" to "Cooking on an Exoplanet" to "Anthropocene - Visualizing Humans as the Dominant Forces of Change on the Planet." Attendees and participants were able to see our home planet as never before, projected and animated on a giant suspended globe that is NOAA's SOS. They watched dramatic weather unleash furious historic storms, saw special spherical movies about space, tsunamis, and the water cycle, and met scientists who study our climate. There were both general public hours and an invitation-only program for schools.

The school program, suggested for grades three through five, called "What Goes Around Comes Around: Oceans, Atmosphere and Weather - School Excursions," was a joint effort of NYU's Courant Institute and NOAA. They teamed up with WSF to teach students how weather systems are created. The program was led by the Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL)/Global Systems Division's (GSD) Hilary Peddicord. She coached the students to engage firsthand with scientists for a hands-on learning experience.

In addition, on Wednesday, May 28, SOS was used as a backdrop for The Weather Channel's "Wake Up with Al", with NBC weatherman Al Roker. Further, an SOS display was also the backdrop for The Weather Channel during Sam Champion's segments on their flagship morning show.

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 109 museums and science centers in 16 countries. The SOS Program is administratively managed and technically supported by the ESRL/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