Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Supercomputer will help researchers map climate change down to the local level

Stephen P. Nash in the Washington Post:  An advance guard of 18-wheelers is scheduled to roll into a business park in Cheyenne, Wyo., this week to unload components of a supercomputer called Yellowstone. This 1.5-quadrillion-calculations-per-second crystal ball will model future climate and forecast extreme weather.

“It’s a big deal,” said climate scientist Linda Mearns of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. Yellowstone will help researchers calculate climate change on a regional, rather than continental, scale. With a better grasp of how warming may affect local water resources, endangered species and extreme winds, local and state governments will be able to plan more effectively.

....As climate models become more complex and detailed, limited computing power bottlenecks the research. Broad-brush models use less power, but they often cannot consider details that drive local climate, such as complex coastlines or the mountain ranges and valleys that affect rainfall. Researchers refer to this as a problem of “model resolution.”

“If you have an old digital camera that doesn’t have as many megapixels as a new one, you want to get that [new] camera because it takes sharper pictures, and you can store a lot more pictures on it,” said Richard Loft, a director in the computing lab at NCAR. “It’s the same thing with Yellowstone. We’ve increased our ability to generate more-detailed pictures of the climate system, so we get a sharper, crisper view of things.”

...Yellowstone will be able to generate climate projections for seven-square-mile “pixels,” instead of the 60-square-mile units typically in use now. “We’ve already had the model resolution to confirm the warming of the planet but not to talk about the winners and losers at the regional scale,” Loft said...

Albert Bierstadt's 1881 painting, Yellowstone Falls

No comments: