Past Awardee

Advancing the Visualization of Atmospheric Climate Datasets and Modeling Results

Donald Wuebbles
Donald Wuebbles

College: Liberal Arts and Sciences
Award year: 2003-2004

Climate change is one of the primary concerns currently confronting humanity. The contribution of visualization techniques to improve the understanding of this complex issue by both the scientist and the layperson has gone virtually untapped as of yet. As a NCSA Faculty Fellow, I plan to explore the potential for the application of such visualization tools to (1) aid scientific analysis and presentation and (2) enhance public presentation through partnering with the Experimental Technologies (ET) Division as well as other appropriate groups at NCSA.

Climate data, both historical observations and future model-based projections, tend to create unwieldy and complex datasets containing multiple dimensions and climate variables. Due to the massive amounts of data involved, analyses of datasets from observations and/or modeling studies have generally been limited to contour plots and other two-dimensional graphics. The typical reliance of climate science on two-dimensional plots limits both interpretation of climate model data and the communication of these results to the public. This limitation primarily arises from the lack of awareness of, access to and experience with state-of-the art visualization tools.

In this project, I plan to interact with the ET Division at NCSA, which has already developed a number of existing tools that could be successfully applied to visualization of climate data in multiple dimensions and with multiple variables. In addition, this project will also take advantage of the GEOWall to be installed in our department in order to investigate how the GEOWall can be successfully applied to meet the objectives above.

In regards to the scientific applications of climate data visualization, we expect the primary benefits to accrue from the ability to represent multiple dimensions and multiple variables simultaneously. A number of approaches will be considered including 2-D animations, volume renderings, 3-D animation rendering, and cutting planes through 3-D renderings. We also will explore additional possibilities, fully expecting to encounter unforeseen and novel ways to enhance our understanding of climate change through advanced visualization. The interactions with the ET Division should provide ideas and approaches to these analyses that are at the forefront of visualization development.

Equally as important as enhancing our scientific understanding of climate change is the importance of enhancing the public's understanding. Communicating climate projections in a meaningful way that can be easily grasped by the public and -- even more importantly -- by policymakers and politicians is one of the long-standing challenges of climate science today. Through this project's interaction with the ET Division at NCSA, I see an enormous potential to enhance the presentation of the societal importance of the climate change issues in visually-appealing and meaningful ways with enormous appeal to the public eye. The ET Division already has extensive experience in producing visualizations for the purpose of informing and educating the public about science. Our coordination will produce high quality presentation graphics that will be shown to wide audiences for purposes of educating the public about climate change.