South Africa and Egypt have pooled their supercomputer capabilities and expertise to help develop a quicker response time to disasters on the continent.
The two countries are collaborating on the development of the two Kamal Ewida receiving stations, part of the state-of-the-art Kamal Ewida Earth Observatory in Egypt.
The new observatory will provide rapid real-time processing for the masses of data received from satellites monitoring Africa. It will also serve as an early warning system for continental disasters such as flooding, famine, earthquakes, terrorism and epidemics, with the intention of mitigating their effects.
Kamal Ewida is modelled on the terrestrial observatory at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. Purdue’s facility uses the talents of people from 20 departments from the schools of science, agriculture, technology and engineering.
Dr Gilbert Rochon, associate vice president for collaborative research in Purdue university’s information technology department, announced the African project at the recent 2009 International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium.
This event, held for the first time ever on African soil, took place during July 2009 in Cape Town under the auspices of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
According to Rochon, Purdue’s observatory provides an ideal model because of its years of experience in collecting, archiving and interpreting high-resolution data from satellites and other sources.
Monitoring disease triggers
The one Kamal Ewida receiving station will track orbiting satellites, while the other will monitor geostationary satellites.
The receiving stations are important, explained Rochon, because they can also detect environmental triggers for severe health conditions such as malaria, sleeping sickness, leishmaniasis — a parasitic disease spread by sand flies — and heartwater, a ruminant disease spread by ticks.
These diseases have a far-reaching economic as well as a social impact and to catch outbreaks in time could save many lives as well as money.
Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (Narss) and South Africa’s Centre for High Performance Computing are the computing partners in the project.
The two, with their trillion-multiplications-per-second IBM Blue Gene supercomputers, are currently the only two private sector facilities on the continent with the capability to handle the massive data-processing task.
It is expected that by the time the 2010 Fifa World Cup kicks off in June, basic infrastructure such as receiving dishes, computers and software will be in operation at Kamal Ewida.
Academic partners include Cairo University and the 1020-year-old Al-Azhar University, also located in Cairo. In addition, the Kandili Observatory and Earthquake Research Institute at Istanbul’s Boðaziçi University is contributing to the project.