WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — A powerful Web-based system enabling
people worldwide to better predict such things as damaging floods and potential
effects of climate change is the goal of a $4.5 million, four-year project begun
by Purdue University researchers.
The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will
add geospatial data hosting, processing and sharing capabilities to Purdue’s
HUBzero, a platform for building feature-rich websites enabling research and
This should open the way for easy development of a variety
of Web-enabled tools for probing and presenting geospatial data in ways that can
help address pressing issues in the United States and around the globe.
Geospatial data can include maps, aerial photos, satellite
imagery, sensor output and almost anything able to be “georeferenced,” or
located on a map, from field-level crop yields and local population densities to
regional weather and climatological records and the flow of trade in specific
commodities across national borders.
Mapping such data, particularly in layers that integrate
information on an array of factors and can show how they may interact, is a
powerful way to glean new and improved knowledge from data collections and to
explain the results to policymakers and the public.
“We want to have tools where people can integrate multiple
data sets in the way they want and extract information based on these multiple
data sets,” said Venkatesh Merwade, associate professor of civil
The project should open geospatial data and sophisticated
analysis tools — many of them common to a geographic information system — to
almost anyone, anywhere and allow ready sharing of data and results, as well as
collaboration among users, whether on the same campus, across the country, or
across the planet.
“I’m here at a first-class university, I have all the
software I need and a fast Internet connection to download large amounts of data
and I have the expertise to handle that data; if I don’t have it, probably down
the hall somebody has it,” said Nelson Villoria, a research assistant professor
at Purdue’s Center for Global Trade Analysis. “Not everyone is as fortunate.
We’re doing something that will lower the barriers to using this sort of
The geospatial data project stems from earlier, specialized
projects involving HUBzero and focused on causes and effects of droughts, water
resources, and agriculture, land use and the environment.
“We have developed many map-driven and sophisticated online
tools for modeling and visualization of geospatial data, which typically require
significant geographic information system and software expertise,” said Carol
Song, a Purdue senior research scientist and the principal leader of the
“In this project, we will be able to share what we have
learned, expand on it and make it available to anyone through the HUBzero open
Merwade, Villoria and Purdue research scientist Larry Biehl
are co-leaders of the project. Thomas Hertel, distinguished professor of
agricultural economics and executive director of the Center for Global Trade
Analysis, is a project adviser.
The project is funded through the NSF’s Data Infrastructure
Building Blocks program. Several partners, from K-12 educators to large NSF
projects, have signed on to test the new geospatial tools as they become
The Purdue researchers will work with the Geography
Educators Network of Indiana to provide students with engaging online activities
that improve comprehension of geography, GIS, remote sensing and other
geospatially related topics.
Merwade and Villoria also will mount test projects to
demonstrate the power of a geospatial-capable hub.
In Merwade’s case, that involves building a hydrologic model
of the entire Mississippi River Basin incorporating large amounts of data on
factors such as weather, land use, topography, soil and more.
When done, the tool should allow users to generate stream
flow projections and predict when floods may occur anywhere in the Mississippi
Basin, which encompasses all or parts of 31 U.S. states and two Canadian
provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains.
“We want to tackle substantive policy issues, things that
change the way people think and lead to policy actions, or at the very least
inform the debate about policy,” said Villoria, whose test project will look at
climate change impacts on poverty.
The new capabilities will be incorporated in the freely
available open source version of HUBzero, making them available to current hub
owners or those who want to build a hub.
A major HUBzero feature is its ability to make computational
research tools and visualization and analysis of results, easily available
through a Web browser.
Built-in collaboration features create online communities
around a topic. The platform also offers data management and interactive
database capabilities and simplified access to supercomputers and cloud
More than 50 hubs based on HUBzero now serve many areas of
science, engineering and other fields, from nanotechnology, cancer treatment and
advanced manufacturing to earthquake engineering, pharmaceutical and biofuels
development, and the bonds between human and companion animals.