CWS Lab - Part 1: An Excited Nerd Gets Access

Two weeks ago, I attended the AMOS 2015 Annual Conference - that's the Australian Meteorological & Oceanographic Society for those of you unfamiliar to this yearly weather & climate geek gathering down under (it's awesome). 

And while there are many, many great things that happened at this conference that I'd like blog about, I'm going to keep this very focused on one topic: a great new tool called CWS Lab.

During the conference, there was a demonstration setup for CWS Lab, manned by a charming bloke name Tim Bedin (aka captainceramic).  Tim is a Bureau of Meteorology employee who has dedicated a significant amount of his time (along with many other team members whom I'm now getting to know quite well) to developing this virtual machine environment.

#CWSLab on Twitter!

Now, I was ready to check out CWS Lab prior to heading up to Brisbane for the conference, having heard about it from Dr. Damien Irving (@DrClimate) via Twitter - where all great things happen in 140 characters or less.  He's been one of the pioneers on this project too, and another very helpful, tech-savvy guru there to help you get started (you'll find that people helping me is a common theme on this adventure). So I was actively looking for this demonstration, and excited to see what it could do.

What is CWS Lab?

You couldn't be faulted for asking: what's the big deal about this CWS Lab thingie anyway? CWSL (or CWS Lab) stands for "Climate & Weather Science Laboratory".  CWSL is explained in depth in other places, such as here or here, so I'll give you the quick & easy version: in short, at present, its a quick, easy way to access the CMIP5 suite of climate model output (used in the Fifth IPCC report), which is a treasure trove of potential analyses and juicy science just waiting to happen.  And like many researchers, I've had so many research ideas bouncing around in my head regarding this type of data - but I've always been held back by the learning curve required to study up on all the scripting needed to load, process and visualise data.  

Well, this is exactly what CWS Lab is for.  It makes it easy to generate visualisations/analyses of the model output data through workflow tools such as VisTrails and a custom set of tools/examples hosted on GitHub.  The tool was so simple and so fast that Tim was able to whip up some imagery of the mean incoming solar radiation fields for Australia for a given model year - and from that point I was hooked. I had to get access, get started and make some science happen.

NCI logo

Getting Access to the NCI

Getting started wasn't quite as easy as whipping up those solar radiation plots. There were several things I needed to do first.  For example: in order to use CWS Lab, you need to have an active NCI (National Computational Infrastructure) account (sign up here) AND you have to have an allocation to associate your account with.  This means an existing project, with a set amount of computational resources that you can use.  Now for everyone using CWS Lab so far, they've been able to join a project that someone else had already started (aka someone in your research group or university).  But not me - I had to do some extra steps.  However, that means its worth me writing about, so that all you other lonely people out there without any climate nerd friends to collaborate with, can learn from my experience.

Applying for an NCI Start-up Account

Thankfully, the NCI folks have planned ahead for people just like me (in between funding, no prior experience on NCI, no friends with allocations to piggy-back on) and created the NCI Start-up Grants.  They are very straightforward to apply for, and I experienced a very quick turn around of <24 hours between application and being granted an allocation!  After you have your NCI login setup (previous step), then navigate to "Propose a Project"

NCI propose

 Now you need to give the project a title and provide some justification for why you need your startup allocation. I wrote about 3 paragraphs, justified the need for the science, put in a basic research question and explained I'd use the allocation to provide some student projects.  Then you need to enter your FOR and SEO codes, and advance to the next few pages.  Leave all the allocation specific requests as the default - the startup scheme has a set allocation size.

Wait for it - Being Granted Your Project

While you're waiting for your project to be approved, its a great time to go install the pre-requisite software for logging into the CWS Lab virtual machine (that's a computer with operating system that runs in the cloud).  The instructions are hosted on Google Drive via link on the project github page.  Once you've installed all of this stuff (a VNC Client and Desktop Launcher, and followed the instructions carefully), there are two remaining things you need to happen:

1.  Your project has to be approved and assigned:

NCI Project approval


2.  You need to be granted access to CWS Lab 

I'm not exactly sure how I was granted access to the CSW Lab environment, because I emailed multiple different people.  You should send a request to access the service to and - that should cover it.

Getting Started!? Yeah...Not quite

So once I was given access to the CWS Lab tools, had my allocation and login information, and I installed all the needed software - I was able to login into the CWS Lab environment! Hooray! 

So now, surely, I could get started plotting all my amazing solar radiation maps, and all will be right in the world, with research papers flowing out of my ears and into the science-verse!  But alas, I had more to do - and some of it took even more help from the (thankfully wonderful) folks at the NCI. So that's what's up next, in my second blog post. Why wait? Because honestly, I'm still figuring it all out myself! So for now - I hope this first post helps you along a bit, getting started with CWS Lab! More soon!

Peace, Love and Solar,