World's Most Efficient Supercomputer Used for World's Largest Simulation to Rebuild Prairies


Photo via Brad Folkens

Prairies are a major ecosystem in North America and yet they're nearly gone. In an effort to find out how to preserve what little is left and rebuild prairies, University of Houston and SiCortex - creator of the most energy efficient supercomputer in the world - are doing important simulations that will help pinpoint what practices need to end, change, and be implemented. And guess what - you could be part of the whole venture. Read on for how. The Virtual Prairie Project, or ViP, aims to figure out how prairies can be saved from degredation and conversion to cropland. Experiments can be done in real time, of course, with real practice changes, but it would take years to find out if the steps taken are working or are a wrong turn. Instead, simulations can figure that out for us so that we can be sure to do the right thing in a timely manner. The ViP project is trying to use modeling to provide extensive virtual experiments for testing solutions in a shorter time than possible through real experimentation, as well as optimizing experimental designs to find out the most efficient results.

So, the effort is working to identify the optimal combinations of water purification, biodiversity, carbon storage, and so on that will help fix the problem of disappearing prairies.

Already, more than 22 million simulations later, the data from the project showed several different strategies should be leveraged to achieve the best growth. The next phase of the project will run thousands of combinations of plant types in a single master simulation over an entire season. This will help researchers pinpoint the best combinations for long-term sustainability for a prairial system under a variety of conditions.

The project is utilizing SiCortex machines, which use a fraction of the power that other supercomputers use, and also takes advantage of your generosity. See, the highly complex simulations would take over 10 years on a single PC...which pretty much defeats the purpose of running simulations. But, similar to the World Community Grid, by hooking up with your's and thousands of other computers, the simulations can be done in a far shorter amount of time.

"Collaborations like this project demonstrate the value and impact of applying high- productivity computing power to solve complex environmental issues — ecological sustainability in this case," said Christopher Stone, president and CEO of SiCortex. "It is appropriate that the University of Houston chose a system that achieves a high level of compute power at the smallest carbon footprint to conduct environmental research."

If you want to volunteer your computer's capabilities while it's idling, you can check out details on joining up with the project. The prairies will thank you.

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Tags: Biodiversity | Biology | Computing | Ecology | Preservation

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