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iSGTW Feature - GEON

Feature - GEON

A model showing a three-dimensional view of a typical landscape, without Lidar.

Image courtesy of Chaitan Baru

A mysterious world of complex geological processes lies hidden beneath the earth's crust and produces the amazing topographic features on the surface. To better understand these hidden processes, scientists must probe the earth's surface for clues of what goes on underneath.

To do this, geoscientists use lasers to scan earth's surface and capture elevation points over large areas with high accuracy. These Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) scans allow geoscientists to map key topographic regions more precisely than ever before.

The current collection of LiDAR data sets contains more than 7 billion data points, amounting to close to 5 terabytes of data.

The problem is that to store, process and analyze these large data sets requires extensive computing resources that many scientists do not have. To solve this problem, the Geosciences Network (GEON) project, based at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California San Diego, has set up a web portal that puts this key topographic data at scientists' fingertips.

The same landscape with the ground cover "removed" with Lidar. This is what the geomorphologists are interested in, since they can now see the ground beneath the trees and observe the various geologic features on the surface.

Image courtesy of Chaitan Baru

Synthetic seismogram

Before GEON, scientists had to download all the LiDAR data and process what they needed on their own system, which required considerable computing resources and a lot of time, says SDSC's Chaitan Baru, a GEON principal investigator. With the GEON LiDAR application, users can now access the raw data, choose what they need processed, and submit a job request that returns a 3D model of the topography. The data sets were originally hosted on a 128-GB memory fat node using SDSC's DataStar system. They have since been migrated to an 8-node Linux cluster and deployed using parallel database technology.

GEON also provides a Synthetic Seismogram generation tool that allows scientists to simulate two- and three-dimensional seismic waves over specified regions. Such simulations can be computationally intensive, but with the touch of a button, scientists can use the GEON tool to connect to powerful Teragrid resources that quickly run the job.

The GEON LiDAR application currently has about 200 registered users, and developers expect this number to continue to grow. "Scientists don't have to download all of the data and they don't need to do any processing on their side because it is all done on the server," Baru says. "That's what has made GEON so popular - it's a much simpler way to access and process the data."

-Amelia Williamson, iSGTW

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