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The Ecological Impact of High-performance Computing in Astrophysics

Status Report From: arXiv.org e-Print archive
Posted: Friday, September 25, 2020

Simon Portegies Zwart

The importance of computing in astronomy continues to increase, and so is its impact on the environment. When analyzing data or performing simulations, most researchers raise concerns about the time to reach a solution rather than its impact on the environment. Luckily, a reduced time-to-solution due to faster hardware or optimizations in the software generally also leads to a smaller carbon footprint. This is not the case when the reduced wall-clock time is achieved by overclocking the processor, or when using supercomputers.

The increase in the popularity of interpreted scripting languages, and the general availability of high-performance workstations form a considerable threat to the environment. A similar concern can be raised about the trend of running single-core instead of adopting efficient many-core programming paradigms.

In astronomy, computing is among the top producers of green-house gasses, surpassing telescope operations. Here I hope to raise the awareness of the environmental impact of running non-optimized code on overpowered computer hardware.

Comments: Originated at EAS 2020 conference, sustainability session by https://astronomersforplanet.earth - published in Nature Astronomy, September 2020

Subjects: Instrumentation and Methods for Astrophysics (astro-ph.IM); Computational Physics (physics.comp-ph); Instrumentation and Detectors (physics.ins-det)

DOI: 10.1038/s41550-020-1208-y

Cite as: arXiv:2009.11295 [astro-ph.IM] (or arXiv:2009.11295v1 [astro-ph.IM] for this version)

Submission history

From: Simon F. Portegies Zwart

[v1] Wed, 23 Sep 2020 18:00:01 UTC (1,363 KB)

https://arxiv.org/abs/2009.11295


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