The National Center for Atmostpheric Research (NCAR) recently hit the power button on one of the world’s most powerful super computers ever dedicated to climate change. The 1.5 petaflop IBM computer can run an astonishing 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second, and will be used by scientists studying a broad range of disciplines, including weather, climate, oceanography, air pollution, space weather, computational science, energy production, and carbon sequestration.
With the effects of human-accelerated climate change becoming more obvious by the minute, the obligation to track, record, and predict future changes becomes more imperative. It’s hoped that new NCAR super computer (located somewhat ironically in Cheyenne, Wyoming, a city rife with oil and gas companies) will allow climate scientists to advance research in everything from storm prediction to air quality monitoring and the assessment of energy and water resources.
The supercomputer, lovingly dubbed “Yellowstone” after Wyoming’s magnificent national park, is made up of 100 racks—tall, black, refrigerator-sized cabinets and over 72,288 processor cores. The computer itself covers a whopping 153,000 square feet, and provides 144.6 terabytes of memory.
Since the high energy demands (and therefore massive carbon footprint) of data centers is well known, many people are wondering just how much energy this climate change computer will monopolize. During initial testing, Yellowstone consumed approximately 1.6 megawatts of electricity. The NWSC say that it will initially derive 10 percent of its power from wind energy, with the option to increase that percentage. Of the energy used by the NWSC, 92 percent will go directly to supercomputing as opposed to office space and other non-computing resources.
Still, the potential benefits for people and the planet are hard to ignore. “This center will help transform our understanding of the natural world in ways that offer enormous benefits to society,” says Thomas Bogdan, president of the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), which manages NCAR on behalf of the National Science Foundation (NSF). “Whether it’s better understanding tornadoes and hurricanes, or deciphering the forces that lead to geomagnetic storms, the Yellowstone supercomputer and the NWSC will lead to improved forecasts and better protection for the public and our economy.”