Scientists nationwide launch first projects on new NCAR supercomputer

Derecho system deployed to study fires, hurricanes and other phenomena

July 5, 2023 – by David Hosansky

CHEYENNE, Wyoming The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) has begun operations on its newest supercomputer, providing scientists across the country with an important new tool for advancing understanding of the atmosphere and other Earth system processes.

The supercomputer, called Derecho, is a 19.87 petaflop system, meaning it has the theoretical capacity to perform 19.87 quadrillion calculations per second. That’s about 3.5 times the speed of the scientific computation performed by NCAR’s previous supercomputer, Cheyenne, and represents the equivalent of every person on the planet solving one computation every second for a month. Derecho is also the first NCAR supercomputer to include a significant number of graphics processing units (GPUs), with 382 NVIDIA A100 GPUs providing 20% ​​of its continuous processing capacity.

Scientists across the country are starting to use Derecho to study phenomena ranging from wildfires and hurricanes to solar storms. Their findings will help better protect society from environmental disasters, lead to more reliable projections of long-term weather patterns, and improve weather and climate forecasting needed by vulnerable communities and critical sectors of the economy such as agriculture and transportation.

Derecho was built by Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE). It was installed earlier this year at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in Cheyenne, where it underwent months of testing.

The new supercomputer is so energy efficient that it will use only about 40 percent more electricity than the Cheyenne, which is itself highly energy efficient despite being 3.5 times faster. This is in part because GPUs can provide more computing power with less energy than traditional central processing units (CPUs), and are also particularly good for artificial intelligence and newly developed machine learning techniques.

We are very pleased that Derecho has passed the testing phase and is beginning operations, said Thomas Hauser, interim director of NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. This new system gives us a major boost in supercomputing performance and is an invaluable resource as scientists across nations work to better understand the Earth system.

Funding for Derecho, which cost an estimated $35 million, came from the US National Science Foundation (NSF). The NWSC is funded by NSF and the state of Wyoming through an award to the University of Wyoming.

A more complete picture of the Earth system

Derecho will initially be used for a series of 15 projects by scientists at NCAR and universities across the country. These include the Accelerated Scientific Discovery (ASD) program, which offers a unique opportunity for large-scale computational projects to have near-exclusive use of NCAR’s new high-performance computing systems for a few months. Derecho will be open to further projects from the scientific community later this summer.

Some of ASD’s projects include:

Climate change in the West and the Arctic. Scientists are applying a technique known as downscaling to create a set of detailed computer simulations that show how the climate is likely to change on very fine scales in the western United States. This new approach, led by Alex Hall of the University of California, Los Angeles, will help reduce uncertainties about future climate and provide researchers with an important data set at a time when the West is facing unprecedented water shortages, fire weather and heat extremes. Another team of scientists, led by Keith Musselman of the University of Colorado Boulder, is producing a series of climate simulations to strengthen understanding of changes in Arctic hydrology and potential impacts on rivers, fish and indigenous communities in Alaska and the Yukon. . That research is led by an advisory council of Indigenous leaders and representatives,

Geoengineering. To potentially offset global warming, scientists are looking into methods such as injecting particles into the stratosphere to reduce incoming solar radiation. Such efforts to artificially cool the planet, however, could have unintended consequences for Earth’s climate. A team of scientists, led by Colorado State University’s Kristen Rasmussen, will run advanced climate models on Derecho to assess the influence of climate change on showers and thunderstorms in South America and determine how stratospheric injection might affect those storms.

Hurricanes. As scientists try to improve hurricane predictions, a major question is the influence of sea spray droplets on these powerful storms. David Richter of the University of Notre Dame is leading a project that uses Derechos GPUs to better understand the movement of airborne droplets and the extent to which they can be carried aloft under extreme conditions. NCARs Rosimar Rios-Berrios and colleagues will use Derecho to explore a different question about hurricanes: Will global warming lead to more cases of catastrophic hurricane precipitation? To answer this question, Rios-Berrios will focus on simulations showing the interactions between clouds and solar heat and the extent to which these interactions affect hurricanes and extreme precipitation.

Fires and air quality. Smoke from wildfires has a major impact on air quality, both locally and in downwind areas. NCAR scientist Timothy Juliano is leading a project to simulate the massive California August Complex fires of 2020. By running a specialized high-resolution computer model capable of capturing fire-chemistry-atmosphere interactions on Derecho, the research team will examine the emissions and the plume rising from the fire, obtaining a complete picture of the generation, transport and evolution of the fire smoke. Another project, led by NCAR Louisa Emmons, will examine the impact of long-haul transport of pollutants and regional influences on urban air quality worldwide and, in turn, the influence of air quality local over the global atmosphere.

Space weather.Solar storms can have far-reaching impacts on Earth, affecting communication and navigation systems or disrupting the power grid. Major solar flares often come from active regions composed of several bipolar sunspot clusters interacting with each other. NCAR scientist Matthias Rempel will lead a project using Derechos GPUs to simulate a 2011 event where opposite polarities collided and formed a powerful solar flare. The investigation will focus on the accumulation and release of magnetic energy. Another space weather study, led by Johns Hopkins University’s Mikhail Sitnov, will use Derecho to examine magnetic tail reconnection on the night side of Earth’s magnetosphere, a process that injects energy towards Earth and can cause large electromagnetic disturbances. The research, using new empirical models of the magnetosphere based on spacecraft observations, seeks to answer two questions: how exactly does the plasma and magnetic field transit from the reconnection site to the inner magnetosphere and how is the reconnection site determined?

Long range forecast. A couple of studies will use Derecho to improve long-term predictions of weather and climate. A project, led by Maria Molina of NCAR and the University of Maryland, College Park, will use a data-driven deep learning approach with GPU Derechos to create a 100-member set of subseasonal forecasts of global temperature and precipitation. The research can help improve predictions of precipitation and heat wave models several weeks in advance. A second study, led by NCAR’s Ben Johnson, will look at ocean models used to simulate regions important to the Pacific decadal oscillation and other phenomena in the oceanic atmosphere that affect global climate. Such research may enable scientists to better understand these phenomena, which are crucial for long-term forecasting.

For more information on these and other projects, see theNCAR Computational & Information Systems Lab webpage.

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