Have you ever feared being caught in a hurricane or extreme flooding?
Or worried about a cancelled flight that could leave you stranded?
A new data centre has opened in Edinburgh to help prevent situations like these in the future.
The International Centre for Earth Data (ICED) is the world’s first facility built to gather weather data from all around the world to make it more accessible to organisations dependent on it.
The new project in the Bayes Centre, Potterrow – co-developed by the University and small satellite technology provider Orbital Micro Systems (OMS) – will provide more precise weather forecasts for sectors such as government, insurance, agriculture, aviation, and shipping.
OMS’ own constellation of small satellites – each about the size of a large shoebox – can penetrate storms and deliver a more detailed view of environmental conditions, leading to far more accurate forecasts.
Through ICED, users will have access to an unsurpassed level of reliable and timely information on the Earth’s physical, chemical and biological state.
William Hosack, chief executive of OMS said for the first time, governments and organisations in aviation, maritime, agriculture, finance, energy, insurance and risk mitigation will be able to use information from satellites and advanced computer systems monitored at ICED to see how weather might impact their work.
“It could help save lives,” he said. “Collecting data at the moment can be slow, and sometimes by the time you get what you need, it’s a few days out of date, which is no good when you’re dealing with a natural disaster, for example.
“ICED helps gather what we call “real time” data, data that is timely and available in the moment.”
He said it can be particularly useful in this day and age with an ever-growing concern for extreme weather conditions.
“Flooding, for example, can rise to a dangerous level in just one hour,” `he continued.
“With our satellites, we can give a more precise forecast and give people an hour’s notice to get somewhere safe, which in turn can save about 80 percent of lives compared to the forecast warnings in previous years.”
He promised output from the ICED will have a positive impact on the lives of hundreds of millions of people around the world by helping make everyday life jobs that bit easier – such as improved crop yields, safer route planning for flights and shipping, and better land management where forest fires, landslides, and other natural disasters are prevalent.
“If you take Aberdeen port for example, which is home to organisations shipping huge vessels across the ocean, our data can help warn of extreme weather conditions,” he continued.
“This can then encourage businesses to send their ships on a different path to prevent them running into any sort of financial or safety issues.
“The same goes for airlines to ensure they have the best route planned for their flights in case there is some extreme weather looming.
“And we can help farmers prepare for extreme weather so that they can protect their crops or livestock, or choose elsewhere to plant their crops or move their animals if there’s a risk of major flooding.”
Michael Rovatsos, director of the Bayes Centre and a professor of artificial intelligence and the School of Informatics, said the project has been the biggest success story since the centre opened a year ago.
“This collaboration between the University and OMS works so well, and we are thrilled to be launching ICED together,” he said.
“A small company couldn’t do this on a technical level by themselves, they don’t have super computers. But we have the access for them. And we have smart people and students who we can deploy on projects.”
He described ICED as a “one stop-shop” for organisations to access data for commercial, safety and educational reasons.
“It will benefit so many different sectors, from the charitable to the commercial.”
Ellen Wong, of the U.S. Consulate, attended the opening.
She is responsible for all American Citizen Services in Scotland, and promoting the US-Scotland relationship.
Speaking at the event she said: “Scottish universities are incredible and well-known for their excellent research in this field. It’s great to see such a strong partnership between Edinburgh University and OMS.
“This timely accurate data can mean a world of difference when it comes to saving people in a huge crisis. It could save those caught in extreme weather conditions by warning them to move them on faster.
“It’s truly a unique collaboration and I look forward to seeing it develop in this city, home to real talent.”
Members of ICED said they are excited to be working in Edinburgh, and job openings will be available soon.