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UW Researchers to Use New Cheyenne Supercomputer

January 30, 2017
Photo of Cheyenne supercomputer
The new “Cheyenne” supercomputer launched operations this month. Of the first six research projects on the machine, two -- relating to wind farm and electricity output, and a smoke and global climate study -- will be conducted by UW faculty. (NCAR Photo)

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) launched operations this month of one of the world’s most powerful and energy-efficient supercomputers, providing the nation with a major new tool to advance understanding of the atmospheric and related earth system sciences.

And two of the six initial projects that will run on the supercomputer, nicknamed “Cheyenne,” will be led by University of Wyoming researchers. These include a wind energy research project as well as one related to smoke and climate change.

“After these six projects run on Cheyenne in the next six weeks or so, they (NCAR) then want to release something about the science they uncovered,” says Bryan Shader, UW’s special assistant to the vice president for research and economic development, and professor of mathematics.  

Dimitri Mavriplis, a UW professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, will head the wind energy research project, Shader says. UW researchers will use Cheyenne to simulate wind conditions on different scales, from across the continent down to the tiny space near a wind turbine blade, as well as the vibrations within an individual turbine itself. Additionally, an NCAR-led project will create high-resolution, 3-D simulations of vertical and horizontal drafts to provide more information about winds over complex terrain. This type of research is critical as utilities seek to make wind farms as efficient as possible.

Projecting electricity output at a wind farm is extraordinarily challenging, as it involves predicting variable gusts and complex wind eddies at the height of turbines, which are hundreds of feet above the sensors used for weather forecasting.

A smoke and global climate study, led by Xiaohong Liu, a UW professor of atmospheric science and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Science, will look into emissions from wildfires and how they affect stratocumulus clouds over the southeastern Atlantic Ocean. This research is needed for a better understanding of the global climate system, as stratocumulus clouds, which cover 23 percent of Earth’s surface, play a key role in reflecting sunlight back into space. The work will help reveal the extent to which particles emitted during biomass burning influence cloud processes in ways that affect global temperatures.

Since the supercomputer came online during October 2012, allocations have been made to 71 UW research projects, 36 of which are still active, Shader says. Additionally, more than 2,200 scientists from more than 300 universities and federal labs have used its resources.

“Through our work at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC), we have a better understanding of such important processes as surface and subsurface hydrology, physics of flow in reservoir rock, and weather modification and precipitation stimulation,” says Bill Gern, UW’s vice president for research and economic development. “Importantly, we also are introducing Wyoming’s school-age students to the significance and power of computing.”

New and Super

Named “Cheyenne,” the 5.34-petaflop system is capable of more than triple the amount of scientific computing performed by the previous NCAR supercomputer, Yellowstone, located at the NWSC in Cheyenne. It also is three times more energy efficient.

Cheyenne currently ranks as the 20th fastest supercomputer in the world and the fastest in the Mountain West, although such rankings change as new and more powerful machines begin operations.

Cheyenne was built by Silicon Graphics International, or SGI (now part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co.), with DataDirect Networks (DDN) providing centralized file system and data storage components. Cheyenne is capable of 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second (5.34 petaflops, or floating point operations per second).

The new system has a peak computation rate of more than 3 billion calculations per second for every watt of energy consumed. That is three times more energy efficient than the Yellowstone supercomputer, which also is highly efficient.

The data storage system for Cheyenne provides an initial capacity of 20 petabytes, expandable to 40 petabytes with the addition of extra drives. The new DDN system also transfers data at the rate of 220 gigabytes per second, which is more than twice as fast as the previous file system’s rate of 90 gigabytes per second.

High-performance computers such as Cheyenne allow researchers to run increasingly detailed models that simulate complex events and predict how they might unfold in the future. With more supercomputing power, scientists can capture additional processes; run their models at a higher resolution; and conduct an ensemble of modeling runs that provide a fuller picture of the same time period.

“Cheyenne will help us advance the knowledge needed for saving lives, protecting property and enabling U.S. businesses to better compete in the global marketplace,” says Antonio J. Busalacchi, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). “This system is turbocharging our science.”

The name of the new system was chosen to honor the support the center has received from the people of that city. The name also commemorates the upcoming 150th anniversary of the city, which was founded in 1867 and named for the American Indian Cheyenne nation.

The NWSC is the result of a partnership among UCAR, the operating entity for NCAR; UW; the state of Wyoming; Cheyenne LEADS; the Wyoming Business Council; and Black Hills Energy. The NWSC is operated by NCAR under sponsorship of the National Science Foundation.


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