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New NASA Supercomputer Models Earth Climate at Warp Speed
New NASA Supercomputer Models Earth Climate at Warp Speed
18 Jul 2001
(Source: Ames Research Center)

David E. Steitz
NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC
(202) 358-1730

John Bluck
NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA
(650) 604-5026 or 604-9000


Using what may be the most powerful parallel supercomputer of its kind, NASA scientists recently used a highly advanced prototype processor to significantly advance the ability to evaluate the global impact of natural and human-induced activities on our climate.

Developers say the new 512 supercomputer is 10 times more powerful than today's supercomputers. "This substantial increase in performance allows us to complete Earth climate simulations in days, rather than months," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for Earth Science, NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. "This tool will help us to objectively evaluate the effects of natural and human activities on global climate."

"When we run the climate model after including Earth climate data from satellites, ground and air observations, we can simulate hundreds of days of global climate per day of computer processing time," Asrar added. "This is a major milestone in our nation's computing capability, and sets the stage for our next steps in advanced computing for climate models."

Scientists at NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA, continue to advance state-of the-art supercomputing with corporate partner SGI, Mountain View, CA. Ames and SGI have been cooperating under a memorandum of agreement since 1998.

The 512 supercomputer will lead to faster and better development of climate models for the Earth Science community, government and industry. What used to take a year to calculate on a single processor might be done in less than a day on a 512-processor machine. "With large NASA computer codes, we now have a technique that speeds up the processing time ten-fold," Asrar said.

Ames computer scientists plan to combine two 512-processor supercomputers to make an even more powerful machine. "The full 1024-processor system will be capable of doubling the speed of the climate models. The assembly of the 1024 supercomputer is to be completed in August 2001," Asrar added.

"This 1024 processor will serve as a research test-bed and once mature will be shifted to routine operations. The next step in research and development will be linking clusters of similar processors located across the nation to create a 'virtual supercomputer' with a computational capability greater than the sum of the individual clusters," Asrar said.

For the last few years NASA computer scientists have encouraged SGI to connect many computer processor chips in a new way when building large parallel supercomputers. These machines include many central processing unit (CPU) chips instead of just one or a few CPU's like older supercomputers. Within the last 5 years, microprocessors have become much more powerful, and computer makers have found that building a supercomputer with thousands of processors is cost-effective.

"By means of this work, NASA is establishing its world leadership position in supercomputing," said Steven Zornetzer, Director of Information Sciences and Technology at Ames. "This new ability to simulate future climate dynamics followed efforts by NASA scientists and one of their industrial partners to improve supercomputing."

"We envision NASA teaming with our industry partners to achieve at least two orders of magnitude improvement in American supercomputers that will support climate change research during this decade," Asrar concluded.

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Last Updated: 18 Jul 2001