Data for Public Good

Leveraging open Earth observation data via Amazon Web Services

By Kristin Quinn

July 18, 2016

Experts shared how making Earth observation data available in the cloud is helping to advance many different types of research at the Amazon Web Services (AWS) Public Sector Summit June 20 in Washington, D.C.

In a session titled “#EarthOnAWS: How the Cloud is Transforming Earth Observation,” attendees learned how the cloud enables scientists, researchers, and GIS professionals to gather and analyze data without being limited by bandwidth, storage, memory, or processing power.

Jed Sundwall, lead for the Open Data Program with AWS, said the initiative helps customers who have data they want to share with the world understand how to use the cloud to do so. He added AWS has recently seen interest in cloud-based EO data increase considerably.

For example, a little more than a year ago AWS began making Landsat 8 data available in the cloud, beginning with a petabyte of data as a contribution to the White House Climate Data Initiative.

“What happened really astonished us,” Sundwall said. “Within the first year of making that available we served up over a billion hits on that data. We now make over 400,000 what are called Landsat scenes—images of the planet—available in Amazon [Simple Storage Service (S3)].”

A diverse range of organizations has since leveraged the data for a wide variety of purposes.

“It matters for our customers,” Sundwall said. “We have a lot of customers who wouldn’t be able to do their work, their products wouldn’t exist without the availability of quality open data that’s shared from the government and other research institutions. Because of that it’s important for us to focus on ways that we can make data more available in the cloud.”

AWS Earth observation data is now used by organizations such as Open AQ, which is building the first open, real-time air quality data hub for the world.

“Millions upon millions of people around the world breathe in air … that if you were to breathe in for five minutes here in the U.S. would raise ethical questions,” said Christa Hasenkopf, co-founder of Open AQ, later adding that according to the World Health Organization one out of eight deaths worldwide is believed to be the result of air pollution—primarily in developing countries.

This is a problem Open AQ has dubbed “air inequality,” and is bringing to light through data visualization to enable science, inform policy, and empower the public.

Bruno Sanchez, a data scientist with The World Bank, discussed how monitoring the availability of electricity from space can help better allocate resources to provide electricity and in turn contribute to the alleviation of poverty.  

“Having electricity is key to having a lot of wealth assistance where after sunset you can keep studying or you can still be working or you have lights for cooking and for safety,” Sanchez said. “Having electricity is important and monitoring how we are doing that is important.”

Sanchez’s team used publicly available satellite data to monitor more than 20 years of nighttime light output in India and study the effects of the country’s flagship electrification program.

Adam Pasch, data strategy and operations lead with the Weather Science Team at The Climate Corporation, discussed his organization’s partnership with AWS as part of the NOAA Big Data Project.

The Climate Corporation seeks to provide decision-making tools for farmers to help them sustainably increase productivity using hyper-local weather monitoring, agronomic modeling, and high-resolution weather simulations.

“This would not be possible without AWS,” Pasch said.

Data evaluation that previously took hours or days can now be conducted in real-time using AWS, he continued.

“We can do at-scale evaluation of radar data for the whole U.S. because we have access to the public data that they put up there, especially [Next Generation Weather Radar (NEXRAD)] data,” Pasch said. “It’s not only the archive going back to 1991 but it is current and real-time and streaming.”

 

Image courtesy of The World Bank