Geoscience in the clouds

A NATIONAL network designed to allow seamless, efficient and cheap access to Australia’s wealth of geoscience data is being developed by CSIRO, Geoscience Australia and AuScope.

Staff Reporter

An increasing amount of data is being collected by research organisations and companies but opportunities for groups to integrate or exchange their information are limited and cumbersome, according to the CSIRO.

In order for this data to be shared, with the hope of turning it into information that could increase scientific knowledge, advance development or solve problems, the organisations have joined forces to develop a large-scale, easily accessible network of information.

The network is supported by world-class visualisation and spatial information storage software and features “virtual laboratories” that allow researchers to process big data online, through cloud computing, in a fraction of the time traditionally taken on a desktop.

CSIRO project leader Dr Robert Woodcock said the network aimed to overcome systemic compatibility problems to save researchers, government and industry time and money.

“Geoscience data is collected by different organisations across Australia that use a range of software and produce data in various formats that are often incompatible,” Woodcock said.

“This makes processing and bringing the data together slow and expensive, even for the relatively small queries.

“The network will make the approach to data more uniform across organisations, so that information can be brought together more readily and at little to no cost, regardless of where it comes from and who is accessing it.”

The network would utilise the National Computational Infrastructure’s supercomputer, which has the processing power of more than 15,000 desktop computers.

“The network will enable us to do better science, while also helping government and companies,” Woodcock said.

“The minerals industry will benefit from this with easy access to valuable data that could eliminate some of the guesswork in exploration, whereas scientists might use the data to predict the impacts of climate change.”

The early version of the network is focused on the minerals exploration industry but it has potential to be expanded and could be particularly useful in predicting natural disasters.

“At the moment, most tsunami warning systems are working on theoretical models of what might happen if you have an earthquake at a specific time and area and when the tide is at a certain height,” Geoscience Australia senior advisor Dr Lesley Wyborn said.

“We hope that with further expansion of the network, we will be able to bring in all the available data, meld it together and give emergency managers a snapshot of what is happening at that exact point in time.”

The national geoscience data network expands on the AuScope Grid, which is a portal for Australia’s geoscience information that is available to industry and the wider community.