E-Government Tool Reviews: NOAA’s View Data Imagery Portal

Reviewed by Monica Louzon (June 2014; please note that the tool has been redesigned and renamed to the NOAA View Data Exploration Tool since this review was conducted):

Intended to be used as “an education and outreach tool”, the beta version of NOAA’s View Data Imagery Portal (VDIP) allows users to interact with mapped datasets to learn about Earth’s oceans, atmosphere, land, cryosphere, and climate. The VDIP presents users with a world map, a basic navigation introduction, and three navigation interfaces that allow users to explore datasets.

 

 Figure 1: NOAA VDIP Navigation Hints Window

The Navigation Hints window appears at the center when the tool has loaded and directs users to “start by selecting data,” “adjust the time or animate” the display, and “download files or get information.” Beneath these directions, there are screenshots of the relevant menus where users can perform each step. This introductory window also provides a key for the zoom and pan symbols and encourages users to check the “Enable Data Values” box and then “mouse over map to inspect the data values” at specific locations. In the bottom portion of this menu, visitors will encounter a link to a Youtube video tour of the VDIP tool as well as several other links NOAA-related links.

Users must first select the dataset they wish to view by using the navigation box at the bottom left corner of the map. The primary dataset categories are “Ocean”, “Atmosphere”, “Land”, “Cryosphere”, and “Climate”. Each of these major categories is then divided into several subcategories. In the “Ocean” datasets, for example, one can choose to examine the salinity of Earth’s oceans at a depth of 2,000 meters by selecting Ocean > Chemistry > Salinity > 2000 meters.

 

 Figure 2: Map displaying ocea salinity at 2,000 meters

Note the data point displayed by mousing over the Atlantic Ocean

The central navigation tool at the bottom-center of the map features various playback buttons that users may employ to animate datasets in the Simulation and Observations subcategories of “Climate”. The bar beneath these buttons can be manipulated to manually view changes in datasets over time (such as the changed and predicted Aragonite Saturations from 1885 through 2094 C.E.). Beneath this bar is a color scale that indicates the color-value relationship on the map for the currently displayed dataset.

The menu box at the bottom right of the tool has two navigation options: “Describe” and “Download”. “Describe” presents a general overview of the displayed dataset topic, explains how these data are represented on the map, and suggests other related datasets that might interest the user. “Download” provides the option to download data from a specific date or period and allows the user to choose whether to include the base layer, color bar, and other features. The download options also include downloading a Google Earth image of data on a single date or over a specific date range.

The dataset categories in the left-hand navigation box were intuitive to navigate, but I found the need to click through five different subcategories within some of them to select my dataset rather annoying. Perhaps NOAA might want to consider using a tabbed or drop-down navigation menu to streamline the dataset selection process. I really liked being able to mouse over the map to display specific data points, and I think that the map would seem more interactive from the start if the display data values box in the central menu was automatically checked when the tool loads. The panning and zooming tools are quite useful for examining datasets, but I would have liked to be able to zoom in just a bit further for more precise geographic data. I disliked the empty space above and below the map, which is most noticeable when the map is zoomed out as far as possible. The empty white border seemed unnecessary to me, and I think it detracts from the otherwise clean feel of the tool.

 

 Figure 3: Same map as in Figure 2, but completely zoomed out with all menus hiddent

Note the white borders at the top and bottom of the image

NOAA’s VDIP tool seems fairly accessible for users with dyslexia, as white text on dark-grey backgrounds can be easier to read than solid black text on a white background. There does not seem to be a translation feature in the tool, however, so it is currently only accessible to English-speaking users. I could not find a TTY number or any other feature that would make the VDIP tool more accessible to visually-impaired users. 

Overall, I found NOAA's VDIP very fun and I enjoyed exploring all of the available datasets. I believe that NOAA has certainly fulfilled its goal to craft the VDIP tool as an educational resource, though given its layout and the included datasets, it seems best suited for use by high school-aged and undergraduate students. Nevetherless, I would recommend the VDIP tool to anyone interested in learning more about Earth's geography, climate, and pollution.

 

Monica Louzon is an MLS student at the University of Maryland iSchool enrolled in the eGovernment specialization. Monica is a recipient of a Laura Bush 21st Century scholarship funded by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services.