NOAA 2002-R501
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Ever wondered how a small storm develops into a hurricane? Or how dust storms travel from one place to another? NOAA’s Science On A Sphere™ offers viewers a space traveler’s-eye view of Earth.

The Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) debuted its new three-dimensional, multi-media exhibit during a week of presentations beginning with an opening ceremony today at the NOAA Science Center in Silver Spring, Md.

“This is an exciting and informative way for people to see NOAA’s climate, weather, and ocean science,” said retired Navy Vice Adm. Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “For example, viewers can watch how the warm water in the Pacific that signals an El Niño travels across the ocean, or watch a hurricane form, as a small storm slowly gathers strength, traveling westward from Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, toward the Gulf of Mexico.”

Suspended from a custom-made aluminum structure, a 68-inch fiberglass sphere is the background for animated images from NOAA satellite and other data sets that are displayed via four projectors and four personal computers.

“I started thinking about this several years ago and did some experiments on the deck of my house using a beach ball,” said Alexander MacDonald, director of NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo. and the creator of the Sphere. “I knew that putting NOAA climate, weather, oceanic, and geophysical on a sphere would be a spectacular tool for explaining NOAA’s science to a variety of audiences.”

The Sphere is a collaborative effort among NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, and National Weather Service.

Sphere creators envision its use by museums, science discovery centers, scientific meetings and conferences, educational institutions, and of course, NOAA events.

“We think NOAA Science On a Sphere™ will be an invaluable educational tool,” said MacDonald. “It is a unique way to explain complex information using images. It can be used to illustrate geography, weather, climate, space weather and a host of other kinds of data. It’s limited only by our imagination.”

Many data sets exist, including those that show the dry, brown deserts of Australia, Asia, Africa as well as both North and South America in contrast to the adjacent verdant plains and forests. Earth’s continuous plates can be traced from ocean depths to mountain chains. Viewers can see blow across the surface of Mars and observe the Sun erupting in violent solar storms sending streams of deadly particles Earthward.

NOAA Science on a Sphere™ will next be displayed at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Meteorological Society, Feb. 9-13, 2003, Long Beach, Calif.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through research to better understand weather and climate-related events and to manage wisely our nation's coastal and marine resources.

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