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Weekly News Digest

April 30, 2007 — In addition to this week's NewsBreaks article and the monthly NewsLink Spotlight, Information Today, Inc. (ITI) offers Weekly News Digests that feature recent product news and company announcements. Watch for additional coverage to appear in the next print issue of Information Today. For other up-to-the-minute news, check out ITIís Twitter account: @ITINewsBreaks.

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NOAA Lab Opens 3-D Earth Site in Second Life

The National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA;, an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has developed a government-sponsored earth science "island" in the rapidly growing online world of Second Life, a 3-D virtual world built and owned entirely by its residents, according to creator Linden Lab of San Francisco. NOAA’s Earth System Research Lab (ESRL) developed the site for users to have the experiences in the virtual world they may not have in the physical world and to learn about the cutting-edge science that NOAA conducts regularly.

Soar through a hurricane on the wing of a research aircraft, rise gently through the atmosphere atop a weather balloon, or search for a hidden underwater cave on a side trip from an NOAA submersible. These and other virtual adventures are attracting large numbers of "avatars," or virtual selves, to the new site. Of the first few thousands of visitors, 35 percent said they had not previously heard of the U.S. agency.

As the technology becomes more sophisticated, scientists may eventually collaborate on research, hold virtual meetings, and give public presentations in the auditorium, according to ESRL’s Eric Hackathorn, who developed the island with Second Life design company Aimee Weber Studios. He is developing metrics for observing traffic patterns while guaranteeing privacy rights for the avatars and their real-life selves.

The site is dubbed "Meteora," a Greek word meaning "things suspended in the air"—or, in scientists’ terms, atmospheric phenomena. The first climate change scenario illustrates a warming world with melting glaciers and rising sea levels. A virtual beach demonstrates how to recognize the onset of a tsunami, and eventually the site may enhance public awareness of riptides, hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. Science on a Sphere, an earlier NOAA invention, makes its 3-D virtual debut with four examples of its 80-plus visualizations of planetary data, including a mesmerizing view of nighttime lights around the globe and a 3-D panorama of ocean, sea, and lake depths. In the future, the sphere may sport its full view of Mars, a storm-after-storm replay of the 2005 hurricane season, and animations of global warming.

More information on how to access this virtual world is available at NOAA’s Second Life Web site:

Source: National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

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