NRL Partners with Google for Live Weather Data on Google Earth

3/26/2008 - 28-08r
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Google recently released a new capability to their Google Earth product-a "Weather" layer that contains a near-real-time global cloud layer developed and produced at the Naval Research Laboratory's Marine Meteorology Division (see figure 1). This partnership was arranged through a recent agreement between Google and NRL's Marine Meteorology Division in Monterey, California. Google initially contacted NRL after seeing some of the Division's satellite products demonstrated on the web. They expressed an interest in working with the Laboratory to display similar data via the Google Earth visualization software. The Google partnership was negotiated by Dr. Rita Manak and Mr. Armand Beede, with guidance from Drs. Steve Miller, Joe Turk, and Ted Tsui of the Meteorological Applications Branch, Mr. Jeff Hawkins and Ms. Patricia Phoebus. The scientific development of the cloud layer product was directed by Drs. Joe Turk and Steve Miller* of the Satellite Meteorological Applications Section, who participated in initial discussions with the meteorologists and Geographical Information Systems (GIS) engineers at Google. Since that time, Google and NRL-Monterey have worked together to define the specific characteristics of the product and thoroughly test and evaluate the use of these clouds datasets within Google Earth.

Google Earth is a freely available virtual globe application, which has over 200 million users worldwide. It provides the user with the ability to freely move around the Earth by changing the viewing angle and position, which is well-suited for displaying terrain features and also three-dimensional atmospheric phenomena such as clouds. The global cloud layer is updated every hour from a composite of environmental satellite datasets maintained at NRL-Monterey. To map clouds over the entire Earth, Turk and Miller utilize data from five high-altitude geostationary satellites, which provide data coverage up to about 70 degrees latitude, and then fill in the higher latitudes using data from the NASA Terra and Aqua and NOAA polar-orbiting satellites. Each hour, the latest composite of these satellite data is processed to discriminate clear and cloudy areas using a surface temperature analysis from the Navy Operational Global Atmospheric Prediction System (NOGAPS) developed at NRL and executed at Fleet Numerical Meteorology and Oceanography Center (FNMOC) in Monterey. A transparency layer is used as a proxy for the opacity of the clouds. For example, thin clouds allow some of the Earth's surface to be visible, similar to how clouds appear to the eye when viewed from jet aircraft.

According to Google's Cris Castello, "The addition of the weather layer is the first time that we have attempted to implement dynamically updated data layers into Earth. Animation of the cloud layer provides a powerful visualization of how interconnected our global weather patterns are."

To view the global cloud layer, make sure that you have the latest version (4.2) of Google Earth installed. It is a free download from Versions for Windows, Mac and Linux operating systems are available. Upon opening the application, you will see the "Weather" option under the "Layers" (see figure 2).

The "Weather" folder contains three sub-layers: "Clouds," "Radar," and "Conditions and Forecasts," and one "Information" link that gives some background information on the data being displayed. The "Clouds" layer depicts a global satellite mosaic of clouds updated on an hourly basis. If you zoom in toward the clouds, you will eventually find yourself below the clouds, at which point you can tilt the image to look up and see the cloud deck above you. Moreover, under the "Information" link is a link to an animation of the most recent 24 hours of global cloud patterns.

The Marine Meteorology Division is exploring Google Earth as a platform for displaying multiple layers of weather data and observations, including environmental satellite data products and numerical weather prediction model (NWP) forecasts such as NOGAPS. Effective data fusion that enables DOD operators to efficiently integrate and interpret large quantities of relevant data sets/products with minimal training and time is highly desired. The partnership with Google has improved understanding of how to overlay multiple layers of weather data with other situational data in a three-dimensional "geobrowser," which can be applied to the development of other effective, cost-efficient capabilities for supporting the nation's operational forces. Google Earth is a tool that NRL-Monterey has already adapted to display several products.

Broader potential applications include a new means to visualize products on the NRL tropical cyclone website, which has served DOD for the past decade with static jpeg imagery products and has been recognized by the world-wide tropical weather community as the most complete resource for real-time and historical imagery of tropical storms around the globe, as well as the NexSat website, which highlights next-generation satellite products using today's research space sensors. The NexSat website provides a wealth of demonstration products over the continental U.S., and it is funded by the Integrated Program Office for the National Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite System (NPOESS). It is patterned after the very successful, but limited access, interactive web-site developed by NRL-Monterey to provide enhanced satellite/data fusion products over SW Asia in support of tactical operations during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In addition, NRL is investigating options with our operational partner FNMOC for potential use of Google Earth as a means to visualize a wealth of other near-real-time meteorology and oceanography products.

*Dr. Steve Miller left NRL in August 2007, to accept the position of Deputy Director of NOAA's Cooperative Institute for Research in the Atmosphere (CIRA) at Colorado State University, where he continues to collaborate with NRL in the development of remote sensing applications.

Figure 1.

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