Press Release

New NASA Supercomputer Models Earth Climate at Warp Speed

By SpaceRef Editor
July 18, 2001
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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.

SpaceRef staff editor.