Launching: Adrift citizen science marine visualisation project

Written by Dr Alastair Weakley
Published on 14 June 2019

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About the author

Alastair co-founded the Interaction Consortium in 2009 and serves as one of the studio's Principal Developers. He has a degree in Design and Technology and after a first career as a product designer for over a decade, he returned to study for a Masters' degree in Information Technology and subsequently completed a PhD ("Internet-based Support for Creative Collaboration", 2007) in Computing Science.

Alastair has collaborated with artists on exhibited interactive artworks as well as publishing in the disciplines of HCI, Information Systems, Information Visualisation and Presence.

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The Interaction Consortium is excited to announce the launch of Adrift, a science visualisation project that enables citizens to map the ocean and help ocean scientists better understand the experiences of marine microbes.

The project is a collaboration between the Climate Change Cluster and School of Design at the University of Technology Sydney, together with the Centre for Science Communication at the University of Otago.

From the many people involved at UTS, we worked closely with Thomas Ricciardiello and Kristelle De Freitas from the Data Poetics group in the School of Design, who designed and built the front-end, and Martina Doblin, who leads the Productive Coasts research program within the Climate Change Cluster.

The IC's role in the project was to provide the back-end engine to calculate and track simulated microbe trajectories and their environmental conditions.

Adrift was launched on World Oceans Day, June 8th 2019. The app allows citizens to launch ocean simulations and help research the environmental changes microbes experience.

Simulated web environment of the world's oceans

Adrift works by dropping ‘marmics’ (virtual marine microbes) in a simulated web environment. The ocean is vast and remains largely unexplored, which poses a big challenge for oceanographic research. Through representative models of the ocean’s surface circulation, Adrift provides a simulated web environment that makes all parts of the ocean accessible and allows unprecedented aggregation of data across the dynamic seascape.

The marmic map interface showing a single track

With Adrift you can place a marmic anywhere in the ocean on January 1st 2017 and monitor its projected position, changing surroundings, and therefore its projected characteristics every day up to December 31st 2017.

We built a system that uses the wonderful Ocean Parcels library to perform the position calculations. Given the point that the marmic was placed on the ocean map, we then load in a data file of ocean conditions for the year 2017. We use Ocean Parcels to calculate the position of the marmic each day throughout the year, as well as the distance travelled each day. Given that set of positions and dates, we can refer back to the ocean data files to find the temperature and nutrient level of the ocean at that point on that day.

We have a number of lookup tables of marmic observation data, covering growth rate, pigmentation, width and length given different temperature and nutrient conditions. These were provided to us by Climate Change Cluster at UTS. We’re able to use these lookups to come up with an approximation of the marmic’s likely characteristics given the current conditions that it’s experiencing and its past history. We also calculate a summary of the whole track: total distance travelled (even though the path may be convoluted), minimum and maximum temperature experienced, and so on.

Log observations in near-real time

Once we have this data we pass it back to the front-end application via our API and the track is displayed to the user. They can then examine the track for particular features of interest and log their observations, as well as go on to create new tracks.

A single marmic track displayed for logging

In this case we want the simulations to be generated in near-real time. The front-end interface does a great job of indicating to the user that something is happening, or if something goes wrong during the generation process (for example, if the marmic is placed on land rather than in the ocean).

Nevertheless, it is important for us to monitor the generation time in case the system comes under heavy load. To do that, as with all our sites, we’re doing real-time process monitoring with Datadog. In this case, we have additional monitoring specifically for the generation task so that we can be alerted if the average duration changes significantly.

Track generation monitor

Adrift is funded by the Inspiring Australia – Science Engagement Programme, an initiative by the Australian Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, and supported by these partners: Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology and Integrated Marine Observing System.

Play your part as a citizen scientist using Adrift. We love bringing projects such as Adrift to life, so contact us at the IC if you have an idea you’re excited about that we could help you make real.

End of article.
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