Interview with Wolfgang Wagner, Professor for Remote Sensing and Head of the Department of Geodesy and Geoinformation at the TU Wien; Co-founder and Senior Researcher at the EODC Earth Observation...
Through the „Earth Observation Data Centre for Water Resources Monitoring“ (EODC), established by TU Wien, ZAMG, private companies and individual researchers, Austria plays a major role in the Copernicus programme of the European Commission and in activities of the European Space Agency (ESA). With additional funding from the Vienna Business Agency the EODC can now be significantly extended.
Copernicus is an ambitious satellite programme that will bring Europe to a worldwide leading position in the civilian use of satellites. Since the launch of the first Sentinel satellite (Sentinel-1A) in April 2014, the sensors on-board the Sentinel 1-A satellite observe the Earth’s surface by radar signals producing global data sets for research and applications, such as environmental protection, urban planning, agriculture, forestry and water economy, and civil protection. The Sentinel data provide an essential contribution to monitor and protect our environment and through their open distribution scheme they are a source of information to the general public. However, due to the advanced sensing concepts and outstanding spatio-temporal sampling characteristics, the Sentinels will collect significantly more data than ever before. This results in the necessity to create new ways to handle and utilise these data. As a basic requirement specific high tech infrastructures need to be established in order to work with these “Big EO data”.
To tackle these challenges, the company „Earth Observation Data Centre for Water Resources Monitoring“ (EODC) was founded in May 2014 by a cooperation of TU Wien, the Austrian meteorological service Zentralanstalt für Meteorologie und Geodynamik (ZAMG), the private companies Catalysts and GeoVille and individual researchers. The IT infrastructure of the EODC will now be significantly extended in order to handle the huge amount of data. With a 50% funding from the Vienna Business Agency for a proposed 1.900.000,00 € expenditure, a unique Big Data processing facility can now be built in Vienna, accessible for industry, science, education and start-ups.
The impetus for Austria’s competition in the Copernicus programme came from the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit), which created the necessary pre-conditions through the Austrian Space Applications Programme (ASAP). “Space technologies and their applications represent highly dynamic world growth markets and are therefore of importance for Austria as a business location.”, says Technology Minister Alois Stöger.
Additional storage, further computational power
In a first step the storage capabilities at TU Wien will be increased to hold two Petabytes (PB) (i.e. two quadrillion bytes), which will enable the storage of Sentinel-1A satellite data of the complete Earth surface. Thousands of hard drives are necessary to increase the initial storage to a total of 20 PB. Catalysts’s staff members will ensure that this multitude of disks can be accessed and managed in the most effective, and cutting edge, manner.
The global utilization of the data is only possible due to the close connection of the Big Data storage with the supercomputing facility VSC (Vienna Scientific Cluster) operated by TU Wien. “The funding of the Austrian higher education structure fund is the basis to establish a significant data storage facility next to the VSC. It is pleasing that this initial infrastructure can now be extended”, says Johannes Fröhlich, TU Wien’s vice rector for research and innovation.
With the support of the Austrian Ministry for Transport, Innovation and Technology (bmvit) and the Austrian research Promotion Agency (FFG) additional hardware investments are made at the premises of ZAMG to receive the Sentinel data directly from ESA’s data hub and process them upon the infrastructure located at TU Wien.
With the additional funding provided by the Vienna Business Agency the storage capabilities of EODC will be extended to 20 PB in the following three years and the computational power will be extended. This will allow EODC to store additional Sentinel data and will enable further users to access the huge amount of satellite data.
„Already today Austria belongs to the five European countries that use the Copernicus satellite data in an extensive manner“, states Dr. Christian Briese, EODC’s managing director. “With this increase of the IT infrastructure we will be able to extend our international visibility and EODC will become more appealing for further partners and applications”.
Earth observation data for climate change research, better weather forecasts and crisis management
Research projects at TU Wien utilise satellite data for the global monitoring of soil moisture and contribute with this activity to climate change research. However, the opportunities offered by EODC are also relevant for industrial applications, education and start-ups creating new solutions and applications. On-going research and development activities in the EODC are being funded through grants of FFG and ASAP funding.
The establishment and extension of EODC is a relevant part of ZAMG’s strategy to improve weather prediction and climate change. It will contribute to further improvement of forecast and warning accuracy. “Specifically in crisis situations, accurate satellite data are an indispensable basis for our alert systems and the national crisis management”, says Dr. Michael Staudinger, ZAMG director. “Moreover, climate research profits significantly from the satellite data. The funding of the Vienna Business Agency is a further important step to establish EODC as an important international institution”.
“Shared Research facilities” a call of the Vienna Business Agency
The support for EODC was possible through the call “Shared Research Facilities 2015”. “With this call we have entered uncharted waters. The excellent submitted proposals have proven that Vienna gains important benefits from these research activities”, stated by Gerhard Hirczi, managing director of the Vienna Business Agency. With the call “Shared Research Facilities” the Vienna Business Agency aims to support the establishment and extension of research infrastructures that are intended to simplify access to high quality infrastructures for companies and research organisations. Bundling research activities in central institutions is reasonable because high tech infrastructure can therefore be used in a more efficient manner and specific services for research and industry are more easily accessible. This supports collaborative approaches in forward-looking research topics and increases the efficiency of hardware usage.
TU Wien GEO Department, Forschungsgruppe Fernerkundung: http://rs.geo.tuwien.ac.at/
Wirtschaftsagentur Wien : https://wirtschaftsagentur.at/