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Latest Four Supercomputer Projects Have Direct Application to Wyoming Issues

July 15, 2015
man standing with wind farm in background
Stefan Heinz, a UW professor of mathematics, will head a supercomputing project that uses his newly developed algorithm to provide models of how the Atmospheric Boundary Layer (ABL) flows over hills. (UW Photo)

Four projects that have applications to Wyoming issues -- including wind farm efficiency, aerosol impacts from wildfires, and water storage -- recently were 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 the experimental design, computational effectiveness, efficiency of resource use and broader impacts such as how the project involves both UW and 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 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 professor of mathematics. “The four projects were granted allocations totaling 22 million core hours.”

Since the supercomputer, nicknamed Yellowstone, came online during October 2012, allocations have been made to 35 UW research projects, including these latest four, which commence July 15 (today).

The newest projects, with a brief description and principal investigators, are as follows:

-- “Numerical Simulations of the High Reynolds Number Atmospheric Boundary Layer Over Complex Terrain,” will employ the primary investigator’s newly developed algorithm, known as the RANS-LES algorithm, to provide models of how the Atmospheric Boundary Layer (ABL) flows over hills.

The part of our atmosphere that is in direct interaction with the Earth's surface is known as the ABL. It varies in depth from 100 to 3,000 meters and the Earth's surface affects it through frictional drag, heat transfer, variability in terrain, evaporation and transpiration, and pollution emissions.

A better understanding of this process will lead to more accurate weather and climate forecasts; safer application protocols for the application of pesticides; improved methods to prevent soil erosion due to winds; and better optimized design and management of wind farms. 

The project will be the first to simulate ABL flow for a very hilly domain, and will be the basis for UW doctoral student Ehsan Kazemi’s Ph.D. dissertation. The project is part of UW's NASA-funded project to develop improved methods for turbulent flow simulations.

Stefan Heinz, a UW professor in the Department of Mathematics, will head the project. Team members include Michael Stoellinger, an assistant professor, and Dimitri Mavriplis, a professor, both in the Department of Mechanical Engineering; Reza Mokhtarpoor, a postdoctoral researcher; and Kazemi.

-- “Investigating the Impact of Wildfire Aerosols From Southern Africa on Stratocumulus Over Southeast Atlantic Ocean,” has a goal to better understand the role of the black carbon and organic carbon aerosols caused by wildfires on the daily cycle of low stratocumulus clouds, and how these aerosols affect microphysical properties of clouds.

Wildfire plays an important role in the variability of regional climate. Aerosols, such as black carbon and organic carbon emitted from wildfires, can significantly change the atmosphere by scattering and absorbing radiation, or by enhancing cloud condensation.

The project will incorporate satellite observations of the smoke emissions; complex physical and chemical processes related to the smoke particles; and a state-of-the art weather model.

The project will feature close collaborations with researchers at NCAR's Atmospheric Chemistry, and Climate and Global Dynamics divisions; the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Pacific Northwest National Lab, Georgia Institute of Technology and Auburn University.

The project is partially supported by a joint Department of Energy and National Science Foundation (NSF) award on wildfires and regional climate variability-mechanisms, modeling and prediction.

Xiaohong Liu, a professor in UW’s Department of Atmospheric Science and the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Science, heads the research. Team members are Zheng Lu, a postdoctoral researcher, and man sitting at a desk in front of a computerMingxuan Wu, a UW doctoral student.

-- “CI-Water Petascale Computation of Model for the Upper Colorado River Basin,” is an ongoing NSF-funded project that is developing a comprehensive model of the upper Colorado River Basin at a fine scale with approximately 100 times more resolution than is currently the state of the art. In addition, by developing easily accessible Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs), this new model can be used by water resource managers.

Predicted changes in future hydrology for Utah and Wyoming stem from warming and associated moistening of the atmosphere, combined with atmospheric circulation-related changes in the frequency and intensity of mid-latitude storms. While global models tend to agree that the future atmosphere will be warmer and moister, there is less agreement on precipitation change, particularly for the Intermountain West. 

This project will couple a new hydrological code, ADHydro, developed at UW, with state-of-the-art weather models to run more accurate simulations to better understand how precipitation may change in the Intermountain West by 2030, 2060 and 2090.

Craig Douglas, a professor of mathematics and the School of Energy Resources; Fred Ogden, UW’s Cline Distinguished Chair in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources; and Norm Jones, a professor of geotechnical engineering from BYU, head the project.

-- “Application of Full-3-D Waveform Tomography (F3DT) to Image Near and Subsurface Seismic Structures,” seeks to better understand how the weathering process develops the regolith (the Earth's top layer of dust, soil, broken rock, etc.) and how it impacts water-storage potential.

State-of-the-art seismic instruments -- operated by UW's Wyoming Center for Environmental Hydrology and Geophyics (WyCEHG) -- will provide raw seismic refraction data from the Blair area between Laramie and Cheyenne. The data will then be analyzed using the Full F3DT algorithm developed by Po Chen, an associate professor in UW's Department of Geology and Geophysics. The F3DT has been extensively and successfully used to better understand earthquakes in Southern California. This project will be its first use on the Critical Zone.

The Critical Zone is the Earth's outer skin, the region where interaction occurs between rock, water, the atmosphere and living matter. These interactions are important because they regulate the natural habitat and determine the availability of life-sustaining resources, including food production and water quality.

Wei Wang, a UW doctoral student in geology and geophysics, heads the project. His research is part of the NSF-funded project, "Water in a Changing West," led by UW faculty members Steven Holbrook (geology and geophysics), Scott Miller (Department of Ecosystem Science and Management) and Brent Ewers (Department of Botany).

By the numbers

The most recent recommended allocations total 22 million core hours, 80 terabytes of storage space, 245 terabytes of archival storage and 20,000 hours on data analysis and visualization systems, Shader says. To provide some perspective on what these numbers mean, here are some useful comparisons. In simplest terms, Yellowstone can be thought of as 72,567 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 13 days­, 24 hours a day. The 245 terabytes of storage would be enough to store the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress more than 20 times.

Yellowstone consists of about 70,000 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 NWSC is the result of a partnership among the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the operating entity for NCAR; the University of Wyoming; the state of Wyoming; Cheyenne LEADS; the Wyoming Business Council; and Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power. The NWSC is operated by NCAR with NSF sponsorship.

The NWSC contains one of the world's most powerful supercomputers (1.5 petaflops, which is equal to 1.5 quadrillion mathematical operations per second) dedicated to improving scientific understanding of climate change, severe weather, air quality and other vital atmospheric science and geo-science topics. The center also houses a premier data storage (16 petabytes) and archival facility that holds historical climate records and other information.


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