Canadian Underwriter

U.S. National Centre for Atmospheric Research selects supercomputer to aid climate change, severe weather research

January 12, 2016   by Canadian Underwriter

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The U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) announced on Monday today that it has selected a new supercomputer named Cheyenne to help researchers across the country studying climate change, severe weather, geomagnetic storms, seismic activity, air quality, wildfires and other geoscience topics.

Scientists used the Yellowstone supercomputer to develop this 3-D rendering of a major thunderstorm in July 2011 that caused flooding in Fourmile Canyon west of Boulder. The colors show conditions in the clouds, including ice particles (light blue), graupel (orange), snow (pink), rain (blue), and water (grey). Image by David Gochis, NCAR.

Cheyenne was selected following a competitive open procurement process and will help “scientists lay the groundwork for improved predictions of a range of phenomena, from hour-by-hour risks associated with thunderstorm outbreaks to the timing of the 11-year solar cycle and its potential impacts on GPS and other sensitive technologies,” NCAR said in a statement. Cheyenne, funded by the National Science Foundation and the state of Wyoming, will be installed this year at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center and become operational at the beginning of 2017.

Since the supercomputing facility in Wyoming opened its doors in 2012, the statement added, more than 2,200 scientists from more than 300 universities and federal labs have used its resources.

The new high-performance computer will be a 5.34-petaflop system, meaning it can carry out 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second, the statement said. It will be capable of more than 2.5 times the amount of scientific computing performed by Yellowstone, the current NCAR supercomputer.

“Whether it’s the threat of solar storms or a heightened risk in certain severe weather events, this new system will help lead to improved predictions and strengthen society’s resilience to potential disasters,” said Anke Kamrath, director of operations and services at NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, in the statement.

High-performance computers such as Cheyenne allow researchers to run increasingly detailed models that simulate complex processes and how they might unfold in the future, NCAR explained in the statement. The predictions provide resource managers and policy experts with valuable information for planning ahead and mitigating risk.

Some of the areas in which Cheyenne is expected to accelerate research include the following:

Streamflow: Year-ahead predictions of streamflows and associated reservoir levels at a greater level of detail will provide water managers, farmers and other decision makers with vital information about likely water availability and the potential for drought or flood impacts;

Severe weather: By conducting multiple simultaneous runs (or ensembles) of high-resolution forecast models, scientists will lay the groundwork for more specific predictions of severe weather events, such as the “probability that a cluster of intense thunderstorms with the risk of hail or flooding will strike a county at a particular hour”;

Regional climate change: Scientists will conduct multiple simulations with detailed climate models, predicting how particular regions around the world will experience changing patterns of precipitation and temperature, along with potential impacts from sea level rise, streamflow, and runoff;

Decadal prediction: Ensembles of detailed climate models will also help scientists predict the likelihood of certain climate patterns over a 10-year period, such as the risk of drought for a certain region or changes in Arctic sea ice extent;

Air quality: Scientists will be able to simulate the movement and evolution of air pollutants in far more detail, thereby better understanding the potential health effects of particular types of emissions and working toward improved forecasts of air quality; and

Subsurface flows: More accurate and detailed models will enable researchers to better simulate the subsurface flows of water, and oil and gas, leading to a greater understanding of these resources.

“Cheyenne will be a key component of the research infrastructure of the United States through its provision of supercomputing specifically tailored for the atmospheric, geospace and related sciences,” said NCAR director James Hurrell. “The capabilities of this new system will be central to the continued improvement of our ability to understand and predict changes in weather, climate, air quality and space weather, as well as their impacts on people, ecosystems, and society.”