Tuesday, December 3, 2013

GeoNet 2023 Part 2: The here and now

Before launching into what GeoNet may look like in 2023, I will briefly review where we are at now and try to answer the question – is the past a good predictor of the future?

What is GeoNet?
GeoNet is New Zealand’s geological hazards monitoring system – we monitor earthquakes, volcanic activity, tsunami and land stability. As well as monitoring these hazards, GeoNet collects high quality data for research which will lead to better knowledge and therefore mitigation of our geological hazards.

GeoNet can also be viewed as a large, distributed data collection, processing, archiving and delivery system. It is comprised of sensors networks, processing and archiving capability, and data and information delivery functions.

And yet another way to look at GeoNet – it is a New Zealand high technology project that made good!

GeoNet networks ….
GeoNet operates a network of over 600 sensor sites throughout New Zealand, connected by a variety of data communication systems (satellite, radio, landline and mobile) which form a huge computer network. The approximate breakdown of sensor types is:

  • 180 “weak motion” earthquake recorders (both National and Regional networks of sensors) to locate earthquakes
  • 180 continuous GPS sites which record how the land deforms slowly and during earthquakes
  • 250+ “strong motion” sensors which record the shaking levels in felt earthquakes, including sensors in buildings and on bridges
  • 17 tsunami gauge sites to record sea level change caused by tsunami
  • Plus a variety of other sensors to record position, chemistry, water levels and temperatures for volcano and landslide monitoring
The big changes in the GeoNet sensor networks have been in the way we move data around the country. The fundamentals of the sensor and data recording technology have not changed much, but with the spread of the Internet our ability of moving data has grown. In 2001 many places required expensive satellite data communications, but this situation is improving fast. The spread of the Internet was predictable and has paralleled the growth of GeoNet.

GeoNet data ….
The data from the sensor networks feeds into GeoNet’s distributed data centre system. When GeoNet began in July 2001 our plan was to have a main data centre in Wellington with a backup site at GNS Science’s Wairakei campus near Taupo. Over the last few years we have moved away from that concept to a distributed data centre model using compute capacity and storage in external and internal “clouds”. GeoNet now operates around 100 “virtual computers” which are centrally configured and managed allowing fast rollout and quick failure replacement. GeoNet Rapid, which automatically locates New Zealand’s earthquakes is run primarily in a cloud service in Auckland with the backup here in Wellington. The rapid availability and growth of the cloud is something I had not expected, but is now central to GeoNet operations.

In the early days of GeoNet we calculated that if computer hard disk space continued to increase at the (then) current rate, we could keep all data on-line indefinitely. Currently GeoNet collects around 8 GB a day and the total archive is around 30 TB. When GeoNet started, 30 TB of online storage required robotic tape changing systems costing millions of dollars. Now I have around 10 TB of storage at home - this is one technology prediction we got right!

Figure 1: GeoNet sensor network 2013 - Seismographs (big and small red dots); Strong motion (big and small green squares); GPS (black and light blue triangles); Tsunami gauges (upside-down dark blue triangles).

GeoNet outputs ….
The data and information produced by GeoNet is delivered through the GeoNet website, which is itself a distributed system of New Zealand and international computer servers. We also have information available via our smartphone Apps (currently on Android and iOS). Via the website, it is possible to find such things as earthquake information, volcano status and the position changes happening to our GPS stations as New Zealand slowly changes shape as we are buckled by the slow collision between the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates. Researchers can download data on earthquake shaking, the raw data used to measure the slow deformation as New Zealand deforms, and all the time-series data (waveforms) recorded by seismographs and strong motion instruments. All of the information on the sensor networks (sensor locations, types and calibrations, etc.) is available via the website so that the data can be interpreted and used correctly.

To demonstrate how the use of the GeoNet website has grown, lets look at the case of Dino the pink dinosaur. In the early days of GeoNet, Dino appeared in front of the White Island volcano-cam and caused the one and only complete outage of the website when "huge" numbers of admirers arrived to view him (or her?). Traffic to the site reached 10 hits per second! Today a widely felt earthquake drives traffic to 10s of thousands of hits per second.

So, is the past a good predictor of the future? Sometimes! The growth and development of GeoNet has paralleled that of the Internet and computer technology and will probably continue to do so. 

Next blog - GeoNet 2023 Part 3: The way ahead

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