A new supercomputer devoted completely to climate change has turned on at the National Center for Atmospheric Research's (NCAR) Wyoming Supercomputing Center in Cheyenne, Wyoming. This is not the first supercomputer to tackle climate change, NASA has been running climate simulations with one since 2008 and just this year the Department of Energy began using one to help advance clean technologies like batteries and smart grid tools, but this one is the most powerful one to focus on climate change exclusively.
The 1.5 petaflop IBM computer can run an astonishing 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second, ranking it in the top 20 most powerful computers in the world. As Time Techland reports, that means a mammoth amount of computing power will now be dedicated to "studying everything from hurricanes and tornadoes to geomagnetic storms, tsunamis, wildfires, air pollution and the location of water beneath the earth’s surface."
Called Yellowstone, the 100-rack supercomputer is divided into three main parts: a crazy fast performance cluster powered by 72,888 Intel Sandy Bridge EP processor cores, a huge 144.6 terabyte storage farm and then a system that visualizes all that data. All this amounts to a computer that is 30 times more powerful than its predecessor at NCAR, called Bluefire. Where Bluefire could run an experimental short-term weather forecast do in three hours, Yellowstone can do so in nine minutes.
All that power and speed will let Yellowstone run complex earth process models with higher resolution than was previously possible and that will help researchers find answers and solutions to many of the problems climate change brings.
ComputerWorld reports, "Scientists will be able to use the supercomputer to model the regional impacts of climate change. A model that is 100 km (62 miles) is considered coarse because the grid covers a large distance. But this new system may be able to reduce resolution to as much as 10 km (6.2 miles), giving scientists the ability to examine climate impacts in greater detail."
Yellowstone will model things like precipitation changes at local and regional levels, loss of sea ice in the Arctic, sea levels and coastal erosion around the world, wildfire behavior patterns, and pollutant and air quality modeling, amount many other issues. The supercomputer could also make long-term forecasts more precise.
Farmers, shipping companies, utilities, and other planners would benefit enormously from forecasts that accurately predict weather conditions a month in advance. Because large-scale oceanic and atmospheric patterns play such a major role at this time scale, scientists will rely on supercomputers such as Yellowstone to provide needed detail on the effects of these big patterns on future local weather events. Yellowstone’s size also allows for more ensembles—multiple runs of the same simulation, each with a small change in the initial conditions—that can shed important light on the skill of longer-term forecasts.
Check out the video below about the NCAR Supercomputing Center and its work.