NCSA 30 | NCSA contributes visualizations for “Dynamic Earth”
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NCSA contributes visualizations for “Dynamic Earth”

NCSA contributes visualizations for “Dynamic Earth”

A team at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications created data-driven scientific visualizations of Hurricane Katrina and the harsh terrain of Venus for “Dynamic Earth,” a new immersive digital fulldome production that follows the trail of energy that flows from the sun into the interlocking systems that shape our climate: the atmosphere, oceans, and the biosphere.

Based on satellite data and supercomputer simulations, NCSA’s Advanced Visualization Lab created three key sequences for the film: a full-motion visualization of Hurricane Katrina; a detailed recreation of Earth’s hellish alter ego, Venus; and a depiction of the heliosphere based on recent insights gained by the Cassini and IBEX missions.

The Katrina visualization was complex, consuming months of computing time and human effort. A hurricane research team led by Wei Wang at the National Center for Atmospheric Research computed the evolution of the storm using a complex numerical weather prediction model. Running this mathematical model on NCAR’s Bluefire supercomputer yielded terabytes of data, which AVL then transformed into a striking animation of the 36-hour period when the storm is gaining energy over the warm ocean. Volume-rendered clouds show abundant moisture. Trajectories follow moist air rising into intense “hot tower” thunderstorms and trace strong winds around the eye wall. The sun, moon, and stars show the passage of time.

“Dynamic Earth” is the result of a two-year collaboration between Spitz Creative Media, AVL, NASA’s Scientific Visualization Studio and Thomas Lucas Productions, Inc., in association with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science and NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The collaborating teams previously produced “Black Holes: The Other Side of Infinity,” which has been seen by millions of people in 15 languages at nearly 200 theaters around the world.