2007-2008 Undergraduate Research Experience
Learning and Practicing Interactive Data Language (IDL) to Manipulate Scientific Data

Team Site

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) headed at the University of Kansas (KU) was funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to explore the polar regions (Greenland and Antarctica), and research the various changes occuring with ice sheets. CReSIS uses various types of radar to analyze ice sheet data. Researchers use radar to probe the ice sheets to get huge amounts of data- Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) data. SAR data contains more information on the ice sheets for discovery. During the International Polar Year (IPY 2007-2009), luminous data sets will be obtained- Terabytes of data will be in just one field campaign. This means large storage devices and fast computers (multi-core) will be needed to process the data sets and retrieve results in a timely manner, which will outstrip the current capacity of the grids of storage and computers.

In response, Indiana University (IU), Elizabeth City State University (ECSU), and the University of Kansas (KU) initiated a Polar Grid project for the purpose to set up a Cyber “Infrastructure for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets". This Grid will consist of the state-of-the-art computers and storage hardware, and also application/processing tools, and scientific gateways for the Polar Science Community to conveniently access the resources. It is important, too, to educate and train the researches, educators, and students for polar science. The Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research (CERSER) of ECSU has committed to engage the students and train them for polar science with hand-on practices and skills for future study, research and career dedications to the polar science field.

To provide support for Polar data collection, an advanced scientific programming and visualization environment will be used to develop interfaces for computation and visualization- compute-intensive tasks such as in big array operations. In this project, Interactive Data Language (IDL) was investigated as the package for efficient and convenient data visualization capacities in the forms of graphics, images and photographs. 2D and 3D require intensive computation and efficient visualization, which are crucial for the Polar Grid project.

The project involved learning the IDL language and environment. IDL is an array-oriented data analysis and visualization application, which is widely used in research, commerce, and education. Its application areas include engineering, medical physics, astronomical, space, and earth science. It offers rapid interactive data analysis and visualization, a programming environment, and end user applications. IDL is available for Windows, UNIX, Linux, Macintosh and VMS platforms and Operating Systems. The high availability facilitates data analysis and visualization in multi-platform environment, and ensures high code portability among platforms and systems.