Seeing beyond 3-D

December 2011
Filed under: Brookhaven

Recently presented at the Supercomputing 2011 conference in Seattle, “Visualization Support for Global Climate Modeling” is more than a way of presenting data. It’s also an interactive, Web-based visual research tool to help the FASTER researchers analyze their data and make links that might otherwise go unseen.

The tool uses a technique called illustrative parallel coordinates (IPC) to convey multidimensional data. Rather than a traditional graph based around x and y axes, an IPC visualization is a rectangular display that can incorporate a large multidimensional dataset in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing and easy to interpret – in a relatively small space.

IPC visualization is particularly effective at revealing central trends. It also includes transparent overlays to communicate hidden overlaps and can be changed to a network representation mode to show associations among various dimensions.

These multidimensional fast-physics climate factors are then linked to their geospatial context using Google Earth and its highly adaptable Application Programmers Interface.

What turns this n-dimensional, geographically referenced visualization into a powerful tool for insight is that researchers can rapidly add and adjust data through a simple-to-use interactive interface.

“You can interrogate the space,” Mueller says. “It’s the expert user who drives the analysis of the data. The user can choose either the locale and link to the high-dimensional data, or start from the data and link to geographic areas that it represents.”
The visualizations build on Mueller’s broad-based computational visualization research that extends from medical imaging to exploring the fundamentals of color perception and ultimately to how computers can interactively aid our visualization choices. For example, Mueller’s Magic Marker program is a step beyond Photoshop, not only providing color options but also suggesting the most effective color combinations for communicating scientific data.

For now, Mueller is adapting the Windows-based FASTER visualization package so researchers can access it online. It’s another link on the path toward giving even a bigger scientific audience the chance to see in N-D.

“Until now, model evaluations have largely relied on the so-called fried-egg approach and in static mode,” says Liu, referring to the splattered-egg appearance of traditional scatter plot graphs. “Despite their usefulness, such traditional approaches aren’t adequate when facing scientific problems with multiple variables and multiple space-time scales. I think the new visualization tools we’re developing with Dr. Mueller’s group will be gradually adapted by the climate science community in general.”

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About the Author

Jacob Berkowitz is a science writer and author. His latest book is The Stardust Revolution: The New Story of Our Origin in the Stars.

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