NASA Tech Helps Better Understand Our Home Planet
Hello. Friends, Sampson Rainey with NASA's earth science news. Team here in the lead-up to Earth Day this year NASA has been focusing, on technologies. That are set to transform, the way we see, and understand. Our home planet, and happily. Today we have three such technologies. That fit that bill to a tee, first. Off we're talking with NASA Ames Research surveyed. Shorai off' who's, invented, cameras, that can image undersea, environments, from above shana, Skolnick, founder, and CEO of nav teka is, working to bring NASA data to life through virtual reality and lastly. We have Brian Campbell teacher. Senior, outreach specialist, and education. Specialist, with NASA's ICESat 2 satellite, which, is set to launch this fall and measure the all-important. Polar ice, among, other earth features, so, let's get started shall we first. Up we've all seen a bird's-eye view of the coastline it's often beautiful but it's also hard to see what's underneath but. What if we could see underneath to the important, ecosystems. That ultimately. Make a difference for the whole planet NOW. Vade you've invented a technology called fluid lensing, do, you want to describe how you came, up with the idea and how does it work sure, happy, birthday Sampson psycho. The idea for fluid lensing actually from astronomy, where we're trying to look through a fluid, interface like the atmosphere but, I was fascinating to learn that as of 2018, we still haven't developed a way to look through the ocean surface which cover is actually the majority of our planet so, I came up with an algorithm called fluid lensing, and you, can actually see in this video what, that what. The fluid introduces, to light, when it casts. Down upon the ocean so you'll notice there's lots of distortions, caused by ocean waves and the, refractive, interface between air and water and there's also the formation of these bright bands of light called caustics, and those really hinder our ability to, image from space and from the aircraft to, study our, largest ecosystem. So. With your technology how, what. Are you able to make out that that you couldn't make up before it so, I'd like to think of it as having a divers view perspective without having to do the diving so from aircraft we. Can see and. This, in a simulation, actually, what. The result would be for fluid lensing the, raw data shows a lot of distortions, you can't actually resolve the geometry, of a lot of things underwater and the fluid lensing resolve which we see in the bottom right actually, shows a half centimeter, resolution picture of that same environment and this is captured from aircraft so, we can not only resolve, objects, but measure them accurately, over time now, by aircraft do you mean kind. Of plans or we were thinking of drones, that can kind of go pretty low yes. Right now we like to fly drones or, unmanned aerial vehicles these are really they're, they're really quiet they're electric, and they're enable us to map large areas of coral reefs on Islands which are really difficult, locations to get aircraft, to so, in this simulation. You can actually see what the raw data look like from the aircraft and you'll notice all the fluid distortions, and then our post-process, 3d view of that environment, and this is really the first time we've been able to map the ocean floor at, a resolution, comparable, to a diver and really understand, the biodiversity of these ecosystems. I'm. Just wondering how they. Say how far up is the drone from the surface cuz it looks like we're getting pretty close. Close. Down to the water unless it's very clear and that's why it looks close sure, so here we're actually stripping away the ocean surface and getting a view that really, would be impossible to get without this technique unless you've drained the ocean which we wouldn't want to do or. Could do so, here, we really, can resolve those, 3d structures we're looking at a scale of roughly 20 meters and width and we're flying at an altitude of 50 meters but the technology, could work all, the way up to two orbit so now there's what we're seeing is I mean the drone is pretty high up but we're really dialing, into a very high. Resolution right, now yes in fact the algorithm, exploits. Positive. Magnification, event so in a wave passes, over it'll actually magnify the object, and I use that as a sort, of travelling microscope, to peer deeper in the ocean system so we're not only can we see at higher resolution, than the sensor is capable of but also we, can see very deep in the water column up to about 30 meters great.
So Well currently we're using drones but the idea hopefully, is to have it on a satellite one day right yes, right, now I love, visiting these ocean ecosystems, they're absolutely, beautiful but as of, 2018, we've mapped more of Mars in the moon than we have of our own ocean floor with not less than 4% of our ocean floor so I think we really need to a path to space to start looking at ecosystems, globally, and understanding. How they're changing and. Can we talk about difference. Between flying on a drone and having it be on a satellite, is obviously. Greater. Area covered, and maybe more, frequent, interval, of coverage right absolutely these ecosystems. Are changing, rapidly and so, we. Can't always deploy aircraft to an island to observe how they're changing it's usually once a year we have time to visit all the different main islands that we look to look at satellites. Don't have that inhibition. It can really target, any spot on the globe very quickly and allow us to build up a picture of what's happening in your real time great, I'm just I'm always curious about you. Know the, Great, Barrier Reef is always in the news now you, know so. Traditionally. You know you they, take they do these ground. Campaigns, or water campaigns, so you get like certain parts of the reef so I'm, guessing by using this technology we can just get a fuller picture of what's happening and inform. Like the entire ecosystem. That's. Impacting. The reef and how the impact the reef is impacting, other ecosystems. Is that kind of absolutely. Right now this would be a really great compliment to those in situations. And you really need both to understand, what's happening on a large scale as well as on the finest scales genetically, and corals as well as the fish that are in the environment. I can tell you a lot about ecosystem. Fantastic. Well it I hopefully Lansing does find its way on a satellite at some point soon thank, you great. So. From one instrument that is hopefully. One day going to grace a satellite to another instrument, that is set to launch this, fall I set to is tasked. With measuring polar ice and other imports, and earth features, now. Brian I guess first off what is polar ice and why should we care about it so yeah polar ice is very important, to our planet, and one thing I like to start out with is that ice, really, keeps literally, keeps our planet cool and by. That I mean when. There's ice ice has high reflectivity it's, a white surface ice, and snow has the same type of reason it's called albedo but, what happens is is that the sun's energy reflects, off of that surface and then a lot of it gets reflected back into space when. That ice isn't there it, gets absorbed by the oceans, absorbed, by the land and therefore heating, up the planet so. Polar. Ice when we talk about polar I should talk to regions, the North Pole in the South Pole the Arctic in the North Antarctic, in the south in the, Arctic it's basically. Sea, ice okay, and that's. Frozen saline, or saltwater. And that's surrounded, by land like the land. Of Greenland, you know the ice sheet land, ice but. Then we have the Antarctic. Which is land, ice or an. Ice sheet surrounded. By sea ice so it's kind of the opposite, but we're really looking at the polar regions around the coastal, areas, of the. North Pole in the south but where we're seeing a lot of the ice melting, over time oh yeah we've been seeing a lot of that in the news the last few yes, so.
What, Instrument, is responsible, I said - for these measurements and how does it work so, the instrument responsible, there's gonna be a live side - is called atlas it's the advanced, topographic. Laser altimeter system, it's, a mouthful, but it's, going to be an amazing satellite. It's. Going to be taking. A thousand, times more measurements, at a previous satellite which we'll talk about in a second but what, the. Cool thing about the Atlas satellite is that it's going to use a laser altimeter system. And that laser altimeter system, will send laser photons, from, a satellite, to, the ground and then back to the satellite and we're gonna be able to measure to the accuracy of one billionth of a second, you, know that. Open window of when it leaves a satellite hits the surface and comes back again in order to map the elevation, of our entire planet and, what you're seeing in the video here you're seeing the engineers, from, the ice set to mission building. The actual, Atlas. Instrument. That's going to house the laser pulses, incredible. Well. We all know that every, time NASA sends out another sight we're always looking to improve upon previous, ones true and we know that I said two went out from. 2003-2009. Gathering similar measurements, and then we have now the IceBridge campaign, which is airborne. And trying to take those similar measurements, before this one comes out yeah so how is icesat-2 gonna be different from I said so yeah it's all about technology so the ice at one mission as you mentioned 2003, to 2009, had, three lasers on board but it's fired, a single single, laser each time and it, fired off 40 laser pulses per second back, in 2001, in 2002, when it was being built before. Launch that. Was the technology we had you, know that was you know the most modern technology for for. The laser altimetry, so. What. We're doing now with this satellite, is this satellite, on Atlit, the Atlas instrument on this satellite will have. Basically, one single laser has, to laterz on board one to use and one for reserve the. One that that's going to be firing down will split off into beams and you can see it on the video now it'll split off into six, beams and each, beam will split off into a pair so. What we're gonna be able to do is unlike. The original iso one satellite which was a single, laser pulse laser, beam down we'll be able to calculate the slope so, we can better estimate, the the, elevation, that we get and because. Of this that this satellite, icesat-2. Will be able to measure a thousand, times take a thousand, times more measurements. Than the original, I set satellite and what, that means is we're, gonna get about a billion. Measurements. Every four point six hours, from. The satellite. Huge. Data sets being sent back down yes, yes great, well of course as the name suggests, suggests, its I since its main measurement. But it's also measuring, other features, that are important, for scientific. Research if you wanted to get into those sure so it's icesat-2 it stands for ice cloud and land, elevation satellite. - and. Obviously. Ice is our primary objective, ice sheets and sea ice but, what we're also looking at since it's an altimeter and measuring elevation.
We're Gonna be able to map anything, on a planet that has elevation, from buildings, to landforms. Like mountains, valleys. We'll, be able to look at sand you, can see on the video here it's showing you the different types of a. Terrain that we're gonna be able to measure it's not just the ice but one. Of the major things were looking at is tree and tree height Wow, and by, by getting the tree height we, can kind of estimate to some degree how much carbon. Is stored in those trees is that one of the things right yeah so we're be able to see how were where trees are photosynthesis. Pulls carbon, dioxide, out of, the atmosphere okay. We want a lot of that out of the atmosphere because it's it's a lot of it's there we don't want that in our atmosphere right, right. Very important, i'mso. Terms. Of the the. Lifespan of this satellite what are we looking at so we're looking at a minimum of three years and after. That you know we go as long as we can as long as everything's, working properly and you. Know sky's the limit, and tesak well Brian wishing I set to a long well lived life thank you great thank you. Some. More on NASA satellites, we, know that they were known for capturing beautiful images but they're also bringing back powerful. Data that help us inform how our planet is changing but. NASA's also interested, in seeing how we not. Lean not only observe but experience, NASA, dedo, case. In point virtual reality so, Sheena what. Is virtual, reality and, how. Are we partnering with NASA to bring that powerful. Technology. To bear so. Vert reality, is an exciting, technology. That simulates, reality, through computer-generated, images. So, when you put on a head-mounted display, like this mobile, headset that I have here you, get the impression of being surrounded, by a different, reality you're really immersed, and my. Company nav taka works with NASA with the science Mission Directorate Applied. Sciences, group and also with the headquarters information. Technology, communications. Directorate, and we're, exploring how, virtual, reality or VR technology. Can be used for science data visualization. And the past, NASA's, really worked with virtual reality for astronauts. To train them to go to space and now, we're investigating, the technology, for earth science especially looking, at data that's used for disaster applications. So hurricanes, fires and floods great. So what, are the key technologies, that make VR, possible, right now so. We're using commercial. Off-the-shelf hardware, that. Means you can go out and buy it yourself at a store online we, use both the immersive systems, that use positional, tracking and, hand controllers, and also, mobile headsets, we use software for, the GIS, geospatial. Data and we even use gaming engines, to do the software development, so what you're seeing here on the screen is a. Demo that we created using 3d data. From one of NASA satellites, called global precipitation measurement and, the. Advantage, that VR brings to that is you can actually go down inside, the data set itself and look, around when we look at the earth on a flat surface like a piece of paper a map or a screen we, often see the size and shapes of the continents, and the polar regions distorted, but, VR gives us that spherical environment so, it allows us to see the planet in a more natural way cool, well, let's see how this drill into the kinds of NASA satellite, data that. You're looking at right now I'm working with. So in addition to GPM, we work with all kinds of different satellite, data also, model, output data so data, that's been processed on a supercomputer like, Discover and NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and. Different.
Types Of geospatial, data that focuses, on disasters, so, in this image that you're seeing this is a 3d, model that, NAFTA car produced of San Juan Puerto Rico and we were looking at the impact of flooding, from Hurricane Maria, and then, also simulating. Flooding, at different category, hurricanes, so by focusing on these natural, disasters we're, helping to develop enhance, decision, tools to help people use data to make better decisions and, I can see that you can kind of figure. Out where how far in the flooding reached and like do other kinds of post-storm. Analysis, and research yeah virtual reality gives you a really, different view it gives you a sense of scale that you don't have when you're just looking at it on a flat surface and, also. It's a really different way of looking at data so instead of just looking at numbers then. You can actually go down and experience, what it feels like to see two, meters of flooding. And you can see what that looks like on a building and understand the impacts from that disaster better amazing, well my next question was you, know is it actively being used and it sounds like it is being used for a lot of post. Data, analysis, yeah, all of our work is still experimental we're, really pushing the limits and trying to see how the technology can be used but, I can definitely envision. A day when we will use both virtual and augmented reality, technologies. For these kinds of practical applications. So, whether it's scientists, going down and exploring, 3d terrain and seeing the data overlaid, on top and even, interacting, with it with their voice and gestures or, an augmented, reality like, a heads-up display so you could have data that, is coming to the windshield of a vehicle so people who are doing first responder, activities, could, actually get information in, real, time at, that disaster, scene a lot, of potential there so, I guess one of the challenges. Is just because, so much data is coming in real-time being able to process. That and have it available to, use, maybe during, an event or somehow to in for, disaster management in real time yeah absolutely and, that would be fantastic if we get to that point great. Thank you say enough thank you well, we have time to go to your questions, so please feel free to shoot. Us a question in the feed below and we'll get to as many as we can I think we already have a few that came. In here, well. I think we have a good one. For. Brian how will it well I set to be able to measure sea, ice thickness, yeah. So we're gonna be able to measure the sea ice thickness what's also called sea ice freeboard so, it's that difference between the surface. Of the ice to where, it touches the surface, of the water that it's something that it's underneath so it's that difference, and that that'll that we can measure that elevation using, this altimeter system, the, other ice like the land ice or the ice sheets since, we're an altimeter and we're bouncing laser pulses, off the surface we're not penetrating, the surface we. Won't be able to get the, thickness, of that, really. Deep ice that land ice but, what we're doing is we'll be able to create. Digital elevation maps, and through, this over time we'll be able to see the elevation, changes, which will help us create, you, know more, understanding, of what's happening to the ice great, great.
Well, Shana this is a nice cross-pollination. How, could for Ali to be used for something. Like icesat-2 data well. As you just heard Brian discussing. The 3d terrain and all of that mapping that would really come to life in virtual reality because. You would get a sense of the, scale the, depth the altitude, and then being able to overlay, that ice at data on the point cloud data so those volumes on top and really be able to explore that instead of layers or slices, but actually be able to go in and explore that we could potentially get a different perspective on, the data would be a cool collaboration, Wow you know so you can fly through these datasets because you're traversing. Through. So many hundreds of miles and just like a click just a turn and oh yeah and VR actually gives us a really cool impression. Of the fourth dimension of time so, you can really fluidly. Move through a dataset and see how changes, occurred over. That's passing of time it's a really different way of looking at data amazing, thanks you know here's. One for vade this, fluid, lensing measure under the, ocean, under. The ocean, bolster. For shallow regions, we can map down to about 30 meters depth and acts if you just look at the total area of earth that's covered in less than 30 meters of water it actually exceeds all the land area so there's a huge amount of environments. We have yet to really see and I, am also excited to perhaps use VR, to some explore some of those environments, Wow. Interesting. Let's. See, here. Could. We launch an army, of drones to measure and map the entire ocean system it's been too long for humans to, get this accomplished, what is, your thought about that strategy I would love that I think we live in a very unique, time in that if you know if you open your phone and you zoom in on satellite data it's usually NASA data or commercial data the minute you get into water it just looks blue and our planet from a distance is blue there's. No reason why we shouldn't be mapping these things great. Let's. See here's a viewer question for Sheena what, about VR for home users to fly no. Assistant, drones, to disaster, areas, what do you think of that idea, well. That would be really interesting, to use VR for that, there's. Already some cool applications. Out there that, you can try for, example exploring, the surface of Mars and other things that nASA has put out there in terms, of using VR to fly drones.
I Guess. The sky's the limit you know the technology will really continue to improve so the hardware will become more, sleek and we'll see more and more functionality, evolving, great, that would be so, interesting, to have. A virtual, reality headset on and have that relay, commands. To two drones, yeah, and that's actually something that we're seeing other agencies. That do direct disaster. Response looking. At is maybe you could have an incident, command manager with. A virtual reality headset getting. A 360. Picture of a scene with, all kinds of different data streams coming in and then sending that data back, to the field maybe as an Augmented, Reality Display like, the heads-up thing that I was mentioning earlier cool. Incredible, thanks, you know mm-hmm, here's. The question from, Paul. Vulture. He wants to know. If. These things are coming in quick sorry, no Harold Peters Paul just asked the question that you answered Sheena question. Harold Peters asks how does AI set to laser respond, to. So, yeah so it since its laser light it's light it's gonna hit the you, know when it hits a fluid hits the water like a reservoir or lake or the ocean you will get some refraction, so, what we're doing with the satellite, is is we are just, measuring those laser, pulses, that, hit, the Earth's surface and come straight back up so, the, movement of water will have an effect on this you will get refraction, but, the ones that do reflect off the surface those, are the ones that we're really looking at and really, smart people at NASA have written algorithms, to, figure out what happens and all these things, that are in motion Wow. Speaking. Of algorithms, and it's, it's. It's a scare word for a lot of people including me but how does how does the algorithm, work with your. Fluid, lensing, like what is it, how. Does it all how did you figure out these these algorithms to make this happen. Took. A while but that's a good question it, actually we think of how your brain operates, when it looks let's say you're looking at someone underneath is something pool your, brain has no trouble figuring out the shape of their face they could probably sketch it individual, very accurately, and yet. You, know we don't do any computation so what we're relying on is intuition, relying. On knowledge, of the food surface food lensing does a very similar things it creates a fluid, model we know that water, can only take on so many shapes it's actually very unique on earth that we have the, right parameter for gravity, and water's viscosity, to create natural lenses, this wouldn't occur if for example the oceans were filled with honey. Or a different fluid so that's that's one method and then the rest is a lot of computer vision to track those, bright bands of caustic light that that go underneath. Mind-blowing. And thank you for answering in a way that I can understand. That, was probably that. Was that was your best shot and. You did well thank you looks, like we have time for one, last question. See. How can I set to help. In studying the land topography. To solve the vegetation, and soil erosion /, degradation. Problems. Okay yeah that's a great that's a great question so of, course it's it's it's an altimeter we're gonna be measuring, everything. So we're really going to look at tree heights we're, going to be looking at we're. Gonna create digit elevation, maps of vegetation across, the plan okay. All. Of NASA's Earth observing satellites, work, in tandem with one another in a sense that they're measuring, different things so, for instance we have the global precipitation measurement, mission you, know and that's looking. At lots of things whether something's in there or landslides, and erosion and all that stuff so when, we get the data four-digit elevation, maps of trees and things like that vegetation, around the world we. Will work with the GPM community, to figure out how, we combine that data with.
The The landslide, data with some of the site but some of the scientists are working on incredible. I think that just shows the ways that data. From one satellite can really compliment and help all the other Earth observing, satellites that we have up there yeah great. Thanks Brian well believe, it or not that's all the time we have left and it seems to have flown by we hope you learned a, lot, about some, of NASA's up, and coming earth science, technologies, and if, you would like to learn more please check out the hashtag NASA. For, Earth NASA number. For Earth. Online. Thanks, for joining and have a great Earth Day.