Climate change research is getting a huge boost from one of the world's fastest supercomputers and a new world-class center dedicated to advancing the state of weather and climate science.
US scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) are now using "Yellowstone" - it can crunch numbers 30 times faster, allowing them to run much more complex experiments and create much more detailed computer models of extreme weather and warming trends than previously possible.
The IBM computer is housed at a new NCAR facility in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it will be used solely for geoscience research, including severe weather, air quality, geomagnetic storms, climate change, oceanography, carbon sequestration, earthquakes and tsunamis, and wildfires.
Like the supercomputer being built at the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) that will support energy efficiency research (due to come online next summer), Yellowstone can run a million billion calculations per second at peak performance.
It can predict the regional effects of severe storms at much higher resolution - to areas as focused as 6.2 miles, a big leap from the 62 miles the previous supercomputer could provide. This laser focus can vastly improve the accuracy of forecasts, aiding in evacuation or rescue efforts related to extreme weather, wildfires or other disasters.
People "want to know what climate change is going to do to precipitation in Spain or in Kansas," Rich Loft, Director of NCAR's technology development told ComputerWorld.
"This center will help transform our understanding of the natural world in ways that offer enormous benefits to society," says Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, which manages NCAR. "Whether it's better understanding tornadoes and hurricanes, or deciphering the forces that lead to geomagnetic storms, the Yellowstone supercomputer and the NWSC will lead to improved forecasts and better protection for the public and our economy."
The Yellowstone supercomputer is housed in NCAR's new LEED-Gold building, the $70 million, 153,000-square-foot NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center.
At least 10% of the electricity comes from a nearby wind farm; NCAR says that amount will rise over time. The facility using outside air for cooling year-round, significantly reduces energy consumption.
Created through a public-private partnership that includes NCAR, the National Science Foundation, University of Wyoming, the state of Wyoming, and local businesses, it will also give access to researchers across the country remotely through the Internet.
It's not that previously used supercomputers have been all that fuzzy. Just this week, a group of French and US researchers demonstrated that the same computer models scientists use to model climate change have accurately predicted conditions on Mars, such as glaciers and ice flows.
If computers can predict conditions millions of miles away, that underscores their validity here on Earth, say the scientists.
"Some public figures imply modeling of global climate change on Earth is 'junk science' but if climate models can explain features observed on other planets, then the models must have some validity," William Hartmann, lead researcher at Planetary Science Institute.
NOAA's New Climate & Weather Center
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just opened the NOAA Center of Weather and Climate Prediction at the University of Maryland to advance the state of weather forecasting and climate science.
Called the backbone of weather and climate prediction in the US, billions of earth observations from around the world flow through environmental models, developed and managed in the new building, that support the nation's weather forecasts.
Scientists will be better able to predict the hurricane season by forecasting ocean currents, as well as large-scale rain and snow storms. They will also predict how hazardous materials move in the atmosphere, conduct air quality modeling, study climate variability, monitor and predict movement of volcanic ash, and research new ways to use satellite information to safeguard the environment.
800 employees - mostly scientists - will work in the new 268,000-square-foot center - which is topped by a green roof - finally moving from the inadequate, antiquated building they've been in since 1975.
Even in those far-less-than-ideal conditions, NOAA has managed to increase the reliability and accuracy of prediction models, and the move will opens the flood gates to new possibilities
“This facility is an important investment in our nation’s future,” says Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank. “It’s a place where government, academia and others can come together to make new discoveries, drive innovation, and uncover new ways to give our citizens and businesses the information they need to make smart decisions, whether that’s deciding how to ship their products to customers or just taking care of day-to-day tasks. The work that happens at this center – and the new discoveries that will be made – will lead to a better quality-of-life for all Americans.”