An environmental slogan says there is no planet “B.” But what if there were a planet “D,” as in a digital twin of Earth that would produce a real-time picture of the environment with data from around the globe and space, one that scientists could use to detect patterns and track climate change?
That’s what Lockheed Martin and NVIDIA, a high-tech company known for its work in artificial intelligence and graphics processing, have teamed up to do. The companies plan to build a digital replica of the Earth for scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Instead of trying to absorb gigabytes or terabytes of data streaming from satellites, weather stations and buoys and looking at different websites, the goal is to synthesize the information, use artificial intelligence to analyze it and create a digital replica of the Earth that can be accessed in one place.
“They have all of this data coming in from all of these different sources and what they were really looking for was a kind of one-stop shop,” said Lynn Montgomery, a senior research scientist with Lockheed Martin Space in Jefferson County and head of Lockheed’s team on the project.
NOAA asked for proposals to develop a centralized monitoring system. Lockheed won a $3 million contract to produce a prototype that fuses all the incoming data on sea surface, just one of the five major systems that NOAA monitors.
The other systems are land, the atmosphere, space weather and the cryosphere, which includes sea and lake ice, glaciers and snow cover.
Lockheed is working with NVIDIA, based in Santa Clara, Calif., to create a multidimensional image that will be updated continually with new data.
“We’re giving them a visual basis of all of that insane amount of data coming in,” Montgomery said.
Now, NOAA staffers have to look at a series of websites fed by different sources to get a holistic view of conditions, she added.
The system should also flag anomalies in the information for scientists.
“We have a huge increase in the volume and diversity of the environmental data and it’s expected to be even more in the future,” said Sid Boukabara, a principal scientist at NOAA in the Washington, D.C., area.
For instance, more and more satellites that beam back data and images are being launched, Boukabara said. “Even for each satellite, you have different sensors and for each sensor we have different products being generated.
“By creating this digital replica of the Earth environment, we’re hoping to be able to streamline the handling of the environmental observations and to include nontraditional observations, from citizens,” Boukabara added.
If the prototype is successful, Boukabara said NOAA hopes to eventually use the observations to make predictions, “be it a few weeks from now or a few decades from now.” The accuracy of predictions relies on the accurate knowledge of current conditions, he said.
“Once you do the monitoring and hook that to a predictive mechanism to project the state of the Earth into the future timescale,” Boukabara continued, “then you can start doing the what-if scenarios: what would be the state of the fire situation or extreme weather events or hurricane intensity.”
Lockheed Martin and NVIDIA are collaborating on a project to provide more timely information about weather and land conditions to agencies dealing with huge wildfires driven by drought and a warming climate. Lockheed Martin staffers have flown on planes used by the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to see if the company’s technology can speed up the analysis and transmission of data to crews on the ground.
The work with NOAA is another case where the companies are building a real-time monitoring system to enable users to prevent or predict events, said Dion Harris, lead product manager of accelerated computing at NVIDIA.
“The scale of what we’re doing with NOAA is very unique and will require a new set of techniques and (data) pipelines to help develop this,” Harris said. “This is really sort of groundbreaking in terms of building a digital twin on this scale.”
Lockheed Martin and NVIDIA will use their existing systems and technologies to blend incoming data. They’ll use artificial intelligence and machine learning to take in, fuse and format observations from multiple sources.
The data will be converted into a visual image using a process called Universal Scene Description, which was originally developed by Pixar Animation Studios. Another tool is NVIDIA’s Omniverse Nucleus, which will enable data-sharing between researchers.
Harris said the information will be available in four dimensions: height, depth, width and time. The model will show the sea-surface conditions over two weeks.
The plan is to allow users to click on the image, zoom in and out and call up data, such as line graphs.
While NVIDIA and Lockheed Martin have cutting-edge technology to build the Earth-monitoring system, Harris expects the companies to have to develop some tools along the way.
“What’s an exciting part is that we’re really sort of creating new technologies, new workflows,” Harris said.
Montgomery with Lockheed said creating an Earth replica using the sea-surface temperatures will take about a year. Importing data on land, space weather and the other systems will follow.
The high-tech industry is leveraging similar techniques to develop digital twins of factories, molecular systems and using similar technology in self-driving cars and other products, Harris said.
“It will be really interesting to see how these techniques are being brought to bear to solve a problem we all care about, which is understanding the world around us.”
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