Discovery Earth Live gives 3-D view of weather patterns

Web app offers near-real-time cloud and rainfall coverage

The Discovery Channel has launched a cool Web application that gives users a three-dimensional view of planet Earth and lets them manipulate the globe with near-real-time views of the clouds, water vapor and rainfall.

Built with Adobe Flex technology, the Earth Live globe can be spun in circles with the click of a mouse, letting people change their vantage point of the planet even as Flash videos play on the three-dimensional canvas. Rich Internet application design firm EffectiveUI used some advanced caching techniques to pull off this trick. Discovery is officially announcing the Web site Monday but it can already be viewed here.

"We're rendering video wrapped around a three-dimensional object in real time on a client's machine. That's fairly processor-intensive," says Anthony Franco, president of EffectiveUI, which also helped build the eBay Desktop application.

"Being able to spin the globe without dropping half the frames on the video is hard to do," adds RJ Owen of EffectiveUI, who was the Earth Live lead developer.

The Discovery Channel draws on data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide global views of clouds, water vapor, temperature and rainfall updated every 24 hours. There are also historical videos, such as one showing the path of Hurricane Katrina and another that shows "a year in the life of planet Earth" by illustrating the changing weather patterns from the beginning of 2007 until the end.

"It gives you a sense of how the Earth is constantly changing," says Randy Rieland, senior vice president of interactive media for Discovery Communications.

In addition to educating Web surfers about climate change, Earth Live also aims "to make people understand how things around the planet are connected," he says. "The tendency is to focus on a particular event whether it's tracking a hurricane or tsunami. Often, when that's being done you lose sight of the ramifications of things in other parts of the world."

Users can interact with the Earth Live application in several different ways. They can add layers to the globe to illustrate the most recent weather patterns individually, or put them on the globe all at once to offer a more holistic view.

In addition to videos, users can click on icons on the globe to call up audio or text news articles related to weather, as well as information about what scientists are up to in the field. A widget tool lets users place an Earth Live globe on a blog or Facebook page.

Future content will include migration paths of birds and animals, and projections of what the world may look like if global warming goes unchecked.

"It takes rocket scientists to understand this data," Franco says. "These guys [at Discovery Channel] have amazing tools to decompile and understand this data. The challenge for us was to go from rocket scientist to soccer mom, make an application that consumerizes the data."

Earth Live viewers who are spurred to take action can visit Discovery sites TreeHugger or Planet Green.

Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Brodkin

Network World
Show Comments

Father’s Day Gift Guide

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles


PCW Evaluation Team

Luke Hill


I need power and lots of it. As a Front End Web developer anything less just won’t cut it which is why the MSI GT75 is an outstanding laptop for me. It’s a sleek and futuristic looking, high quality, beast that has a touch of sci-fi flare about it.

Emily Tyson

MSI GE63 Raider

If you’re looking to invest in your next work horse laptop for work or home use, you can’t go wrong with the MSI GE63.

Laura Johnston

MSI GS65 Stealth Thin

If you can afford the price tag, it is well worth the money. It out performs any other laptop I have tried for gaming, and the transportable design and incredible display also make it ideal for work.

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?