An Open Data Service From NASA

NASA’s Earth Observing System is one of the largest “open data” systems in the world, at least by volume. The science is similar to Mars and other Solar System observations, but it is so much closer and cheaper to orbit Earth that we have a lot more data.

The challenge, of course, is how to use the data. NASA has gone through many generations of public data systems. (Historical note: both the Planetary Data System and EOSDIS, for instance, predate the World Wide Web, and have been redesigned many times to track the Internet revolution.)

NASA’s satellites are continuously recording a longitudinal record of the whole Earth, with records going back decades. But this data can also be analyzed to detect “events”—storms, fires, volcanoes, etc. The former records don’t need to be available immediately, but the latter are most valuable at the time they occur.

EONET NASA’s latest effort to make this data useful in a timely fashion. A recent version of this is Earth Observatory Natural Event Tracker (EONET),

providing a curated source of continuously updated natural event metadata; providing a service that links those natural events to thematically-related web service-enabled image sources (e.g., via WMS, WMTS, etc.)

(The acronyms refer to public standards for describing and accessing data, “etc.” means there are quite a few of them. You don’t want oto know how many hundreds of person-hours went into creating those standards!)

EONET is a fairly simple service, it provides a web API to retrieve metadata records about “events”. As they admit, the definition of an “event” is hazy and arguable, but that’s not critical.

One reason that isn’t so critical is that the web API let’s you retrieve the records and do whatever you want, including refining or changing the definition of the “events”.

Each record contains some description (taken from published standards) and a pointer to other data such as maps, reports, or imagery. These records are barely readable, they are intended to be processed by software. It is pretty easy to incorporate this API and data into your own app if you want to. For instance, you could make a widget that checks for wildfires near where you live, and notifies you if something is happening.

They give an example query which shows the idea:

Example: = Return the most recent 5 events within the past 20 days that have an InciWeb source and are open (still active events).

When I ran it, I got reports for five wildfires, with GPS coordinates and time, and pointers to the “incident report” with map and other information. (See sample results below.)

This, my friends, is what “open data” actually looks like.

Nice job, EOS folks.

Sample result:

     "title": "EONET Events",
        "description": "Natural events from EONET.",
        "link": "",
        "events": [
                {         "id": "EONET_223",
                          "title": "Hidden Pines Fire, Texas",
                          "description": "",
                          "link": "",
                          "categories": [
                                              "id": 8,
                                              "title": "Wildfires"
                          "sources": [
                                             "id": "InciWeb",
                                             "url": ""

                         "geometries": [
                                              "date": "2015-10-13T12:00:00Z",
                                             "type": "Point", "coordinates": [ -97.149722222222, 30.076111111111 }



Space Saturday

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