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Seven UW Projects Awarded Use of Cheyenne Supercomputer

June 27, 2017
View of Cheyenne supercomputer
Seven research projects headed by UW faculty members will make use of the Cheyenne supercomputer. (UW Photo)

Seven projects, many of which have applications to Wyoming issues -- including identification of promising catalysts for carbon fuel and chemical production, cloud seeding to enhance precipitation and a study of the Blair-Wallis watershed -- were recently chosen to receive computational time and storage space on the supercomputer in Cheyenne.

University of Wyoming faculty members will head projects that will use the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC). Each project was critically reviewed by an external panel of experts and evaluated on experimental design, computational effectiveness, efficiency of resource use and broader impacts such as how the project involves both UW and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) researchers; strengthens UW’s research capacity; enhances UW’s computational programs; or involves research in a new or emerging field.

“The Wyoming-NCAR Allocation Panel recently met to evaluate the large allocation requests for the use of computational resources at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center,” says Bryan Shader, UW’s special assistant to the vice president for research and economic development, and a UW professor of mathematics. “The projects were granted allocations totaling 65 million core hours. In addition, 6 million core hours were recently awarded to a new faculty member as part of his startup package.   

“These projects represent new explorations that could not be undertaken without the capabilities of Cheyenne, the recently installed supercomputer at the NWSC,” Shader says. “Improved computer technology is enabling the study of more complicated or nuanced phenomena. “

Over the last year, 23 UW projects used the NWSC. This includes four new projects that were allocated a total of 72 million core hours starting in January 2016. These allocations and use rank UW as first in total allocation and total users; first in total computer charges; and first in active projects among the more than 100 North American universities using the NWSC.

Since the NWSC’s opening in October 2012, allocations have been made to 53 UW research projects, including these latest seven.

Cheyenne Projects

A brief description of each of the projects, which begin July 1, is provided below:

-- Maohong Fan, a School of Energy Resources (SER) professor of chemical and petroleum engineering, leads the project, titled “Application of Density Functional Theory in Low Carbon Fuel and Chemical Productions.” This National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded project will use the Cheyenne supercomputer to identify the most promising catalysts for carbon dioxide or synthetic gas conversion from among a massive set of possibilities. The project should greatly accelerate the application of carbon dioxide conversion techniques that can be used to mitigate the environmental impacts of producing and using carbon-based fuels.

UW faculty members working on the project include: Urszula Norton, a UW associate professor of agroecology in the Department of Plant Sciences; Khaled Gasem, a professor of petroleum engineering; Hertanto Adidharma, an associate professor of petroleum engineering; and Gang Tan, an associate professor from the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering. The research team also includes collaborators from Jackson State University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Delaware.

-- Jeff French, an assistant professor of atmospheric science, leads the project, titled “Numerical Representation of Cloud and Precipitation Growth Processes and of the Effects of Glaciogenic Seeding on Orographic Clouds.” Throughout much of the interior western United States, and in many arid regions around the globe, water supplies are derived from precipitation when moist air is lifted as it moves over mountain ranges. This precipitation, known as orographic precipitation, is often in the form of wintertime snowfall that feeds surface runoff and reservoirs, and replenishes subsurface aquifers.  

Glaciogenic seeding of clouds -- that is, infusing clouds with chilled air or ice nuclei to encourage formation of ice particles -- is one technology that various Western communities have considered to glean additional water sources. Despite many studies of glaciogenic seeding, there are many important questions that remain unanswered. This project seeks to resolve some of these questions.

The project, called SNOWIE (Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds: the Idaho Experiment), is a collaborative research program aimed at addressing long-standing questions related to the initiation and growth of precipitation in orographic clouds. The project will apply new and advanced instrumentation, improved understanding of cloud dynamical and microphysical processes, and numerical modeling capabilities to evaluate the potential for orographic precipitation enhancement in ways not possible in decades past.  

Besides French, UW researchers involved in the project are Bart Geerts, a UW professor of atmospheric science, and Wei Wu, a postdoctoral student. The project also includes collaborators from the University of Illinois and NCAR.

-- Zach Lebo, a UW assistant professor of atmospheric science, heads the project, titled “Modification of Marine Boundary Layer Flow by Topography Along the Western United States Coastline,” seeking to provide scientific understanding of how coastal terrain (specifically, that along the western U.S.) contributes to various phenomena in the jet stream that have been observed by a recent UW King Air research expedition.

Tom Parish, a UW professor of atmospheric science and head of the department, along with faculty from the University of Kansas, will collaborate on this NSF-funded project.

-- Xiaohong Liu, a UW professor of atmospheric science and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Modeling, will study the impacts of smoke aerosols on regional and global weather. The NSF project includes research collaborators from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Auburn University and the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. It is known that large amounts of aerosols that result from forest fires can change the timing of formation of rain in clouds. This project will investigate how these aerosols affect the spatial distribution of precipitation and will require the new capabilities of the Cheyenne supercomputer.

-- Subhashis Mallick, an SER professor of geology and geophysics, will lead a project that will develop and use new algorithms to characterize the structural and petro-physical properties of a region’s subsurface.

-- Wei Wang, a UW Ph.D. student in geology and geophysics, heads a project, titled “Application of Full 3-D Waveform Tomography (F3DT) to Image Deep Critical Zone with Ambient-Noise Data.” He will study the deep structure of the Blair-Wallis watershed, which is located between Laramie and Cheyenne.

This watershed is part of the Earth’s critical zone, which is the portion of the Earth that extends from the deepest reach of groundwater to the top of the vegetation. This zone sustains the majority of life on the Earth and, yet, fundamental questions -- such as “What are the essential physical, chemical, hydrological and biological processes that control the formation and evolution of the critical zone?” -- are still unanswered. The project will provide the data to enable researchers to make reliable inferences regarding how the critical zone evolves under climate, tectonic and anthropogenic events.

By the Numbers

The most recent recommended allocations total 65 million core hours, 147 terabytes of storage space, 75 terabytes of archival storage, and 33,000 hours on data analysis and visualization systems, Shader says.

To provide some perspective on what these numbers mean, Cheyenne can be thought of as 145,152 personal computers that are cleverly interconnected to perform as one computer. The computational time allocated is equivalent to the use of the entire supercomputer for 21 days­, 24 hours a day. The 147 terabytes of storage would be enough to store the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress more than 20 times. Cheyenne consists of about 145,152 processors, also known as cores. An allocation of one core hour allows a project to run one of these processors for one hour, or 1,000 of these for 1/1,000th of an hour.

The supercomputer Cheyenne began operation in March. Its capability to perform 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second places it as the 20th-most capable supercomputer in the world. It is more than 2.5 times more capable than its predecessor, Yellowstone.

The NWSC is the result of a partnership among the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, 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 NSF.

The NWSC contains one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers dedicated to improving scientific understanding of climate change, severe weather, air quality and other vital atmospheric science and geoscience topics. The center also houses a premier data storage and archival facility that holds historical climate records and other information.


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