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Latest Five Supercomputer Projects Have Direct Application to Wyoming Issues

February 16, 2015
man with marker in hand and whiteboard behind him
Craig Douglas will use the supercomputer to help develop a computer model of the Colorado River Basin to study how factors such as population growth, shifting land uses and climate variability impact water storage and availability in Wyoming and the region. (UW Photo)

Five projects that have applications to Wyoming issues -- including water storage, snowpack accumulation and wind turbine efficiency -- 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 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 problems that will be studied in these projects are important from the scientific point of view, as well as from the societal or economic points of view,” says Bryan Shader, UW’s special assistant to the vice president of research and economic development, and a professor of mathematics. “The spatial and temporal scope, and the complexity of these studies, requires the use of a supercomputer."

Seven projects received allocations in November 2012; another six were selected in February 2013; four more were chosen during July 2013; five were picked in December 2013; four were chosen last summer; and this latest batch received approval earlier this month.

The newest projects, with a brief description and principal investigators, begin March 1, and are as follows:

--A project, titled “Cyber-infrastructure Petascale Computation Model for the Colorado River Basin,” is designed to develop computer models to study how factors such as population growth, shifting land uses and climate variability impact water storage and availability in Wyoming and the region. The project is developing a model of the Upper Colorado River Basin at a scale that is approximately 100 times finer than any existing models.

This joint project involves UW, the University of Utah, Utah State University and Brigham Young University. This project is supported by a $5 million National Science Foundation (NSF) grant.

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

-- A project, titled “High-Resolution Simulations of Precipitation, Snowpack, and Stream Flow in Wyoming,” will study the effect of climate variability on the precipitation, snowpack dynamics and stream flow in Wyoming over the next 30 years. This project continues a previous project that used retrospective simulations to show that the model, used accurately, captures observed seasonal precipitation and snowpack build-up. In simple terms, the project will provide a long-term, Wyoming-specific “Old Farmer’s Almanac” that uses historical data and the latest models.

Bart Geerts, a UW professor in the Department of Atmospheric Science, leads the project. Team members include Yonggang Wang, a UW post-doctoral student in atmospheric science, and Changhai Liu, a project scientist II in NCAR’s Research Applications Lab.

-- A project, titled “Numerical Simulations of the Atmospheric Boundary Layer Over Complex Terrain,” is designed to better model the air flow over hills in the atmospheric boundary layer (ABL). The ABL is the part of the troposphere that is directly influenced by the Earth’s surface. Better understanding of this air flow will lead to improved weather forecasts, as well as the improved design of wind turbines and arrays based on geographic or weather profiles.

This NASA-supported research is led by Stefan Heinz, a UW professor of mathematics, and Michael Stoellinger, a UW assistant professor of mechanical engineering.

man standing by fence with wind turbines in background-- A project, titled “Investigating the Impact of Wildfire Aerosols From Southern Africa on Stratocumulus Over Southeast Atlantic Ocean,” will use computer simulations of wildfire aerosols to investigate how these aerosols affect the formation of clouds over the southeast Atlantic Ocean. In various regions, such as Southern Africa, the carbon emitted from wildfires plays an important role in regulating the climate variability by changing the rate of absorption of radiation for the sun and the Earth.

Xiahong Liu, the Wyoming Excellence Chair in Climate Modeling and a UW professor of atmospheric science, leads this joint National Science Foundation/Department of Energy funded project. Liu’s collaborators include Zheng Lu and Yiquan Jiang, both post-doctoral students, and doctoral student Mingxuan Wu and Yun Zhou.

-- A project, titled “Computational Study of Wind Turbine Performance and Loading Response to Turbulent Atmospheric Inflow Conditions,” will focus on demonstrating the feasibility of simulating entire wind farm installations (of 100 turbines or more) in order to improve wind farm siting decisions and wind turbine designs. The second goal aims to develop models capable of incorporating effects of complex terrain on wind turbines/arrays.

Dimitri Mavriplis (PI), Jonathan Naughton, Jay Sitaraman and Stoellinger – all professors in UW’s Department of Mechanical Engineering -- will collaborate. The project is supported by a large, recently awarded Department of Energy grant and an Air Force Office of Scientific Research grant.

By the numbers

The recommended allocations total 34 million core hours, 96 terabytes of storage space, 340 terabytes of archival storage, and 25,000 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 20 days­, 24 hours a day. The 96 terabytes of storage would be enough to store the entire printed collection of the U.S. Library of Congress nine 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 Wyoming share of the NWSC resources is currently 75 million core hours of computing on Yellowstone; around 400 terabytes of high-performance storage; and 5 petabytes of longer-term tape storage.

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 and Power. The NWSC is operated by NCAR under sponsorship of the NSF.

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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