NOAA 2003-R501
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Visitors to Weather Fest at the American Meteorological Society’s annual meeting will get an astronaut’s-eye view of the world when they see the Commerce Department, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Science On a Sphere™.

“This is a new and exciting way to present NOAA's global science and operations to the public,” said retired Navy Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Ph.D., undersecretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator.

Science on a Sphere is designed to be used for public displays such as in museums, or scientific meetings, and in schools, where children could better understand our oceans and atmosphere when seeing the information displayed on a sphere.

The exhibit consists of a 200-pound, 68-inch fiberglass sphere suspended from a custom structure. Four 3,000 lumen projectors and four personal computers synchronize and blend the animated images from global environmental data sets. Images include the Earth’s topography, bathymetry, weather events, weather prediction models, and past and future climate change. Viewers can watch 500 years of climate change or travel back to the time when the Earth’s continents were one large land mass.

“We think NOAA Science On a Sphere™ is an invaluable educational tool,” said Alexander E. MacDonald, director of NOAA’s Forecast Systems Laboratory in Boulder, Colo., and creator of the Sphere. “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.”

NOAA’s Science On a Sphere™ owes its start to a beach ball.

“I started thinking about this several years ago and did some experiments on the deck of my house using a beach ball,” said MacDonald. “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 made its debut the week of Dec. 2 at NOAA’s Science Center in Silver Spring. Hundreds of people, including a class of schoolchildren, marveled as they watched warm water move across the Pacific Ocean as an El Niño formed or followed storms that became hurricanes as they traveled across the Atlantic Ocean.

“There’s really no end of possibilities with NOAA Science On a Sphere™,” MacDonald said. “Viewer will see our sun erupting in spectacular solar storms, sending streams of particles Earthward. We could develop data sets where viewers can see the climate of the past and present and project it into the future. We have a blank slate at this point, with endless possibilities.”

Weather Fest is a science and weather fair dedicated to exploring meteorology and oceanography. It is open to the public at no charge from noon to 4 p.m. on Feb. 9, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 10-12 and 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Feb. 13 at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center, 300 East Ocean Blvd. NOAA Science On a Sphere™ presentations will be conducted every half hour.

The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (NOAA Research) 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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