As winter arrives across the country, a new supercomputer that
will create the best-ever models of how the Earth’s climate works is
being “fired up” as part of NASA’s efforts to better understand the
global environment. What used to take a year to calculate on a
single processor might be done now in less than a day on this 512-
processor machine.

From portraying the current climate more quantitatively to
simulating future potential global warming scenarios, NASA will
provide better science for economic and policy decisions using this
new, powerful machine.

The 512-processor, SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer recently went into
service at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. In
technology developed especially for NASA, all processors share the
computer’s 128-part memory as if it were a single entity to improve
performance significantly over other “clustered” architectures. Up
to a 10-fold improvement on an Earth-science application has been
realized with this new architecture using optimizing techniques and
multi-level parallelism (MLP) software developed at NASA’s Ames
Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

“This latest supercomputing technology grants NASA scientists a
significant new capability for understanding and simulating the
intricacies of our planet’s climate system,” said Dr. Ghassem Asrar,
Associate Administrator for Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters,
Washington. “For instance, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies
in New York has been able to complete in two months research that
previously would have taken six.”

“This success shows the power of direct collaboration between NASA
and industry, focusing our efforts on one of the most important
scientific policy questions facing the country. I’m very pleased
that our joint work has resulted in a significant new capability for
the global climate research community,” said Dr. William J.
Feiereisen, a senior scientist at Ames.

The primary user of the new supercomputer is Goddard’s Data
Assimilation Office and a NASA-NOAA joint weather-forecast
improvement project. The Office is preparing for the 2002 launch of
the Aqua satellite by building NASA’s next-generation software to
incorporate observations into global climate models.

Aqua will observe changes in Earth’s atmosphere, complementing the
Terra satellite already in orbit. Together, Aqua and Terra will
provide the first observations on interfaces between the atmosphere,
oceans and land that this new computer will “crunch” into highly
accurate climate models. The models will assist in better weather
prediction and a better understanding of our global environment.

“With the Origin 3800, NASA will more than double the amount of data
it ingests to 800,000 observations each day,” said Dr. Richard B.
Rood, a senior scientist at Goddard. “We will also integrate
assimilation systems for several satellites so that, like the real
Earth, the impact of one type of data will be felt by another type
of data.”

The Origin’s processing power, along with the MLP software that
takes advantage of its unique memory design, will enable the NASA
climate models to run more than four times faster and at double the
spatial resolution of today’s models.

With one-quarter of the computing resources available to it, the
Goddard Institute for Space Studies will be better able to explore
natural and human influences on the climate. The Institute
researches the many, not-yet-understood factors that contribute to
global warming. These climate studies focus on timescales ranging
from a decade to a century.

“This more capable computer will allow us to employ more realistic
representations of global climate systems in our attempts to
understand climate change that has already occurred and to predict
climate change that will occur throughout the 21st century,” said
Institute Chief Dr. James E. Hansen. “Our most pressing needs are to
represent the full atmosphere — troposphere and stratosphere —
with adequate vertical resolution and to represent the ocean with
better horizontal and vertical resolution. These improvements will
be possible with the Origin 3800.”

NASA’s Earth Science Enterprise is a long-term research effort
dedicated to providing industry and policy leaders with sound
scientific knowledge of how natural and human-induced changes affect
our global environment. As part of this effort, the Enterprise
partners with industry to develop the new technologies needed for
global observations.

More information about the NCCS is available at: