Microsoft Research has just released a new way to convey earth-science concepts. It’s called Layerscape, a data visualization engine that was originally developed as WorldWide Telescope (WWT), an astronomical observatory housed within your PC. WWT was and is a wonderful tool for exploring the heavens, but WWT has expanded beyond astronomy, adding, among other things, a careful construction of the Earth, textured with fine-scale imagery courtesy of Bing Maps. Now earth science has become the central theme in the next phase of WWT’s life, with Layerscape as the digital ecosystem for creating and sharing three-dimensional visual stories based on earth-science data.
Layerscape offers researchers new ways of looking at lots and lots of data, both above and below the earth’s surface. The community site also provides a great venue for learning how people are actually using Layerscape. Our collaborators are starting to gain new insights into their data and make use of our communities to share and collaborate.
One of the important technical challenges for the environmental scientist is managing the flow and the visualization of research data. Layerscape harnesses your PC’s graphics processor to visualize large amounts of data—in space and in time. Layerscape could be used to render 3-D visualizations from such diverse data sets as historical surface temperature measurements, chlorophyll concentration, seismic activity, greenhouse gas diffusion, sea ice extent, wind patterns, ocean pH, insect biodiversity, aquifer storage, geothermal heat flux, antelope migratory patterns, or the transport of Saharan dust as it fuels plankton blooms across the surface of the Atlantic Ocean with nitrogen and iron. Layerscape can also create abstract visualizations where you do not necessarily need latitude and longitude—just coordinate axes.
In addition to rendering data in 3-D space and in time, Layerscape has what we call freedom of perspective and free narrative. You can place your virtual eye anywhere you like and connect a sequence of perspectives and automated transitions that emphasize what the data is doing and what story you want to communicate. Such storytelling is ideal for educational outreach, enabling you to share your results with the scientific community and the general public.
Layerscape is an exciting release from Microsoft Research that we hope will accelerate how researchers and scientists around the world share and visualize data. We invite you to: