Advancing the geosciences through simulation

by Brian Bevirt

Simulation, an increasingly valuable complement to theory and experiment, has become one of the principal tools of modern science. Science demands a relentless advancement of computing technology because only the most powerful supercomputers can increase our skill in simulating and predicting the immensely complex physical processes in the Earth-Sun system. NCAR scientists and engineers improve the sophistication of computer models and provision some of the world’s most capable computers. But the petascale systems of the near future require a facility that can support their massive power and cooling requirements. Therefore, NCAR and its Wyoming partners are building a world-class scientific computing facility that will adapt to future needs without compromising on efficiency or sustainability.

The NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) will serve scientists nationwide who research weather, climate, oceanography, solar physics, space weather, computational science, energy production, and carbon sequestration. Opening in 2012, NWSC will house one of the world’s fastest supercomputers for scientific research, as well as a premier data archival facility that will preserve valuable research data including extensive climate history records. NWSC will also deliver data analysis and visualization services to the scientific community, and its high-performance networks will provide full access to its world-class resources. Developed and managed by NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL), NWSC will advance the Earth-Sun system science.

Designed specifically for scientific supercomputing, NWSC integrates best practices for energy efficiency and sustainability in a computational data center. Numerous innovations make the facility approximately four times more efficient than NCAR’s current Mesa Laboratory computing facility. When it begins operation, NWSC is projected to be nearly 90 percent more energy efficient than typical data centers, and significantly more energy efficient than today’s top centers. Almost 92 percent of the energy consumed by NWSC will go directly to powering the supercomputers, and wind energy will supply at least 10 percent of the facility’s electricity. Environmental stewardship is a core value of both CISL and NCAR.

Most researchers will interact with the center remotely via the Internet. NWSC’s cyberinfrastructure – technology that connects people anywhere with computing centers – will stimulate high performance computing at universities across the nation, broaden participation in scientific discovery by people from any background, and build interdisciplinary collaborations. Because it leverages strong programs at both NCAR and the University of Wyoming (UW), NWSC will be a catalyst for education, outreach, and training (EOT). Educators across the country will use NWSC to develop computational science and computational geoscience curricula at colleges and universities. UW is now a prototype campus for identifying and testing successful ways to develop campus cyberinfrastructure and computational science curricula. These capabilities will be replicated or improved at other campuses – including NWSC – then used to invigorate education programs at still more institutions.

NWSC will also expand educational opportunities at two-year and tribal colleges in the region by building on existing programs and contacts within those communities. EOT efforts will leverage NCAR’s current work with minority-serving institutions to attract more people to NWSC-related programs, and to increase workforce diversity within computational science and the geosciences. NWSC will also expand existing internship and mentoring programs at NCAR and UW. To stimulate early interest in scientific computing, project partners will initiate K-12 and community education programs. NWSC will also feature an unparalleled on-site learning and discovery experience for visitors. As a public resource dedicated to educational excellence, NWSC will strive to advance the scientific literacy of the nation.

This photo shows NWSC’s highly reinforced computer room floor being built at end-FY2010. Numerous innovations and efficiencies were made possible by this design. NWSC will enable NCAR to support critical Earth System sciences research through high-performance computing for the next two to three decades.
This photo shows the NWSC building structure at end-FY2010. Construction progress has been very efficient and continues ahead of schedule. Fully enclosing the building before winter will allow interior constuction to continue at full speed even during storms. The NWSC will enable NCAR to support critical Earth System sciences research through high-performance computing for the next two to three decades.