Tuesday, December 15, 2009

UH climate collaboration uses raw computing power

Atmospheric and ocean scientists working with one of the world's most powerful computers anticipate that new modeling research will lead to much better predictions of things like the paths and progress of hurricanes.

As well as predictions of climate events that have a less immediate impact on our lives.

One of the issues with computerized climate models is that the models in the past have use such a big grid that it can be difficult to get quality results. If a modeling program is only able to deal with blocks on a map that are 120 miles wide, then fine features smaller than that can get missed.

“In the real world, things occur on much smaller scales,” said Kevin Hamilton, interim director of the University of Hawai'i's International Pacific Research Center (IPRC).

The limitation has been the raw computing power needed to create fine resolution. So along comes Earth Simulator, one of the most powerful computers in the world, to help resolve the issue. Earth Simulator 1 was in 2002 the most powerful computer on the globe, and Earth Simulator 2 is even smarter.

Earth Simulator is operated by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC), which collaborates with the IPRC on climate research. The latest IPRC newsletter reviews some of the work they're doing.

With that kind of power, researchers have been able to shrink the grid to two miles or so. At that scale you can almost pick out individual clouds.

For climate scientists, that kind of power is exciting.

“We can run these really high resolution models for hundreds of years,” Hamilton said. “We're on the leading edge of what things you can model.”

The system can also be used to model ocean circulation at finer scales than ever before, including the movement of water through ocean canyons and narrow straits that simply would have been invisible on less powerful computers.

More interesting, perhaps, for Hawai'i residents, is the system's ability to model hurricanes. With the fine scale available, researchers have been able to use the model to compare the behavior of an actual hurricane with the development of a virtual hurricane based on the weather information available when it was just starting out.

“It was very exciting. We can actually see the storm in the model,” Hamilton said.

“We're not saying that all tropical systems are predictable,” but this kind of research is likely to lead to dramatically improved weather forecasting on the scale of a week to a couple of months out.

IPRC and JAMSTEC have been collaborating since 1997, and recently expanded their partnership through 2014. Officials of both agencies met in Honolulu last week to discuss their work.

“It was really to review where we are,” Hamilton said.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2009


Dan, Janna, Gia, and Kai said...

Hi Jan,

I really enjoy your blog. Do you have any information on the possible new landfill at Kauai Coffee?


Dan Pettus

Jan T said...

Thanks Dan, I have some information on the landfill. Send me a note at hawaiiwriter@gmail.com.