Transitioning to the IDV and CAVE: Improving Classroom Technology for Meteorology at Plymouth State University

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Students a Plymouth State University (click to enlarge)

Thanks to a 2015 Unidata Community Equipment Award grant, combined with matching funds from Plymouth State University, students working in the weather lab in the Department of Atmospheric Science & Chemistry now have 21 new workstations on which to use the Integrated Data Viewer (IDV) and AWIPS II.

During the 2015-16 academic year, the workstations were used heavily by students in a variety of classes, including Synoptic Meteorology, Atmospheric Physics, Instrumentation & Observations, Mesoscale Meteorology, Numerical Weather Prediction, Satellite & Radar Meteorology, and our meteorological computer application class, which provides in depth instruction with IDV and ISL. Furthermore, students used the workstations to produce scholarly research in areas such as atmospheric rivers, orographic precipitation, and explosive extratropical cyclone intensification over the North Pacific.

Students also used the machines to produce real time ski and showboarding forecasts, which benefitted Plymouth State athletic programs. Chris Hohman is a rising sophomore who worked on providing forecasts for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts as part of a collaboration with a private company called OpenSnow. “The environment to work in was unique; it's specifically designed for meteorology work. Instead of being a regular computer cluster, the monitors and additional computing power made it easy to interpret multiple applications at once, including web-based applications and IDV,” Hohman says of the lab setup. “I never felt frustrated or slowed down by the tools in the computer lab, they are without a doubt highly capable of running multiple programs that I needed to create quality forecasts.”

Rob Megnia, a graduate student who also worked on providing forecasts for skiing and snowboarding enthusiasts, notes, “[The] dual monitor PCs give students a comfortable and resourceful work space. The dual screen PCs proved to be very convenient for blog forecasting ski and snow conditions for OpenSnow. I was able to write on one screen while analyzing forecast products on the other.”

Additionally, students with financial aid awards from the U.S. Department of Education's Federal Work Study Program had the opportunity to use the IDV on the lab workstations to develop new graphics products for the Plymouth State Weather Center (http://vortex.plymouth.edu). This has been a useful project as we continue to phase out maps produced by legacy WXP software.

The Unidata grant and matching funds purchased new Dell Optiplex 9020 workstations with NVidia GeForce GTX 745 4 GB video cards, allowing us to meet the video requirements for AWIPS II and to allow IDV to function more efficiently in a dual monitor environment. The video card features one each of HDMI, VGA, and DVI port, making it easy to integrate with the existing dual monitor configuration at each workstation. Each system has a i5-4590 Quad Core 6 MB 3.3 Ghz processor and 8 GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 memory and a 500 GB hard disk.

Originally, it was envisioned that each PC would need to be able to run both Microsoft Windows (to support the majority of university installed software) and CentOS Linux (to support AWIPS II). Two machines were configured with an additional solid state drive to test the image deployment process and dual boot functionality. During system configuration testing, Unidata announced that it would be providing an AWIPS II client for Microsoft Windows. Once the client became available, it was tested for compatibility with both Unidata's cloud EDEX server and our own local EDEX server. Initial results indicate that students are able to use the Windows client for CAVE to perform a variety of meteorological analyses. By using the Microsoft Windows CAVE client, the amount of effort to manage and deploy software will be greatly reduced by eliminating the need to keep two operating systems current with security patches and other updates. Faculty anticipate integrating AWIPS II into the curriculum shortly.

The previous generation of lab computers were transitioned for use by our graduate students for email/word processing or relocated to other classrooms for student needs that require minimal computing power. With this repurposing of the older machines, the overall life cycle for each computer will be seven to nine years, maximizing our technology investment.

The access to dedicated computer resources for student forecasting activities in the meteorology lab has been extremely useful. The number of high-power computers ensures that there is always one available for student work, and the resources afforded by the machines made the meteorology lab a desirable place for students. The computers gave students access to meteorological applications and would not necessarily be available on their personal PCs.

In the near future, the computers will continue to support courses and student research. Our program just received a three-year grant from the National Science Foundation to study Cold-air Damming in Northern New England. Both graduate and undergraduate students will use the lab facility to access observational data and numerical model simulations on our server to support this research. In addition, Plymouth State University is moving toward a more interdisciplinary model of education that incorporates real-world problems into the classroom. The computer lab is already used across disciplines; an Environmental Science graduate level GIS course used the facility this year and we anticipate similar collaborations will continue in the future.

Unidata Community Equipment Award grants make funds available to colleges and universities to puchase equipment or cloud-based computing services that will enhance their participation in the Unidata program. For additional information on program, visit the Equipment Awards page.

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