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Observing the earth via satellite: cubes to sort data

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Peter Baumann, Professor of Computer Science at Jacobs University Bremen.


August 16, 2018

The Sentinels are a family of European satellites continuously observing the Earth. They gather important information on changes in the atmosphere and climate, vegetation and land use, wave heights and water temperatures. With their help, humanity is able to better prepare and protect itself against natural or self-inflicted disasters. A research project at Jacobs University Bremen aims to better process this data – and to realize new possibilities of use.

The problem: the guardians are over-eager. Every day the Sentinels deliver six Terabytes of new images which are stored in huge archives. It is difficult and time-consuming to keep track of this wealth of data and to carry out fast, targeted analyses. Peter Baumann, Professor of Computer Science at Jacobs University, therefore suggests combining all the images of a satellite and align them along space and time to create a "data cube". This huge data cube can then be cut and sliced and analyzed along space and time. For example, this makes it very easy to determine how a certain area - such as a forest fire or a settlement - changes over time.

Thus, the number of objects reduces from many millions to a handful and, hence, becomes manageable again. At the same time, the data cubes standardize the multitude of different data types. The processing, analysis and visualization of large amounts of data from the field of Earth observation is thus considerably improved and new opportunities for use arise. "The user receives exactly the data giving the insights required, and much faster than before," says Baumann, who is in charge of the research project. “A cube tells more than a thousand images.”

Baumann has been working on the topic of data cubes for a very long time. With the rasdaman ("raster data manager") system, his group has implemented the world's leading, fastest data cube technology, as recently confirmed in a report by the Research Data Alliance (RDA). Based on this experience, he was appointed to several standardization bodies, including the International Standardization Organization (ISO) and the Open Geospatial Consortium (OGC), where he is in charge of developing the data cube standards.

In the BigDataCube project, rasdaman is used to take the next step: not only to manage data cubes individually, but to make them freely combinable in public/private partnerships. On public side, rasdaman is being installed as an interactive database component on CODE-DE, the German Sentinel archive. On private side, a commercial geo-cloud provider, cloudeo AG, is equipped with rasdaman. This will allow the data cubes of both services to be freely combined in the future – for example, CODE-DE satellite data with cloudeo elevation data. The task of the rasdaman software is to perform this so-called data fusion with optimal performance and invisibly to the user.

Two areas of application will be focused on initially, maritime economy and land use. Goal of BigDataCube is to make it easier to detect coastal erosion and shifting of sandbanks after storms, to identify oil pollution, and to monitor fishing activities.  Potential commercial uses include refining the planning of offshore wind farms or monitoring the effects of their construction, for example on the Wadden Sea World Heritage site. Further, the planning of power lines can potentially be improved with this technology.

Project partners are Jacobs University as coordinator, rasdaman GmbH, cloudeo AG and DLR's Maritime Security Research Center. The project, which will run for 18 months, is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy.

For more information:

Questions will be answered:
Prof. Dr. Peter Baumann | Professor of Computer Science
p.baumann [at] | Tel: +49 421 200-3178

About Jacobs University Bremen:
Studying in an international community. Obtaining a qualification to work on responsible tasks in a digitized and globalized society. Learning, researching and teaching across academic disciplines and countries. Strengthening people and markets with innovative solutions and advanced training programs. This is what Jacobs University Bremen stands for. Established as a private, English-medium campus university in Germany, it is continuously achieving top results in national and international university rankings. Its almost 1,400 students come from more than 100 countries with around 80% having relocated to Germany for their studies. Jacobs University’s research projects are funded by the German Research Foundation or the European Research Council as well as by globally leading companies.