The Virtual Solar Terrestrial Observatory (VSTO)
||The software architecture behind
the functionality offered by the first release of the VSTO portal. The
user interface allows selection of data by starting with an instrument,
a time range, or a scientific parameter, and ultimately connects to the
external MLSO or CEDAR data services. The semantic framework provided
by the VSTO ontology enables a unified user experience across separate
physics domain and data archives.
View large image.
The Virtual Solar Terrestrial Observatory (VSTO) is an NSF-funded
collaboration of the NCAR High Altitude Observatory (HAO) and Computing
and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) with McGuinness & Associates.
The goal of the project is to research and develop a knowledge system
environment that would allow seamless integration and data access in
the areas of Solar, Solar-Terrestrial, and Space Physics (SSTSP). By
providing a higher-level semantic layer on top of the current array
of disparate data formats, services and repositories, the project is
expected to greatly facilitate and empower the work of data providers,
scientists, researchers, and educators across all these domains. At
the end of its three years of funding, VSTO is expected to deliver a
fully functional prototype allowing virtual access to selected services
comprising observational and model data, different data formats, and
multiple data archives.
Because of its innovative and integrative approach, VSTO plays a
strategic role within the NCAR and CISL cyberinfrastructure priorities.
The same technologies, design patterns, and interfaces that are being
developed for VSTO could likely be applied to other scientific
disciplines such as climate, weather and forecast, and further on to
the biogeosciences, geochemistry, water and carbon cycles, and so on,
thus allowing NCAR to play a pioneering and leading role in the
geo-informatics arena. Not by coincidence, the same researchers and
engineers working at VSTO are also engaged in other strategic efforts
like the Earth System Grid, the Community Data Portal, and TIGGE
(Thorpex Interactive Grand Global Ensemble), thus fostering quick
technology transfer and cross-pollination among all these efforts.
In FY 2006, the VSTO team accomplished substantial progress toward
the realization of its ambitious goals. By engaging the wider community,
and collaborating with other parallel efforts like the NASA SWEET
(Semantic Web for Earth and Environmental Terminology), the VSTO
ontology (an organized model of the concepts and relationships
relevant in the SSTSP domains) has been brought to a stable form.
Based on this ontological model, a software framework has been
developed that achieves complete semantic integration between two
very different domains and data archives: the Mauna Loa Solar
Observatory (MLSO) in the solar domain, and the CEDAR database
in the Upper Atmosphere domain. A unified user interface allows
the user to select one of three alternative workflows to search,
select and download data and products from either domain,
ultimately tying into the specific data services that are exposed
by each archive. The newly released
VSTO portal encompasses
functionality previously supported by the separate MLSO and CEDAR
web sites, and represents one of the first successful examples of
comprehensive semantic integration in the field.
In FY 2007, the last year of the project under the current funding
stream, the VSTO team plans to build on the solid progress of FY 2006
in several respects. The VSTO portal and services will be supported
in an operational mode, serving the combined MLSO and CEDAR communities
and expanding to the needs of other communities as well. Additional
functionality will be developed and deployed to enable unprecedented
ways to search and compare data that are possible only because of the
over-arching semantic framework. New rich clients (based on Web Services)
will be developed to expand access to the VSTO knowledge environment
beyond the traditional browser-based capabilities. Finally, the VSTO
team will continue its engagement with the large geoinformatics,
semantic, and scientific communities to foster additional
collaborative relationships and opportunities for further
leveraging this pioneering work.
The VSTO project supports the NCAR strategic priority of
"Creating an Earth system knowledge environment." It is funded
by NSF Science and Engineering Information Integration and
Informatics (SEIII) Grant 0431153.