NASA is joining with leading university and government researchers to develop software frameworks that will enable more realistic simulations of natural phenomena and interpretation of vast quantities of observational data on high-end computers.

Over the next three years, the agency will pay out $22.8 million to 11 investigation teams attacking challenges as diverse as:

  • making it possible for many climate and weather modeling groups to share and reuse each other’s software,
  • creating multi-year earthquake forecasts,
  • predicting space weather using real-time observations, and
  • uncovering the workings of gamma-ray bursts.

    “These agreements represent a major investment in development of the software infrastructure that is needed to support high-end computing applications in the Earth and space sciences,” said Dr. Richard Rood, Acting Chief, Earth and Space Data Computing Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. “The applications are at the forefront of scientific discovery through computational experimentation and also sit at the foundation of the software codes used to assess climate change.”

    For instance, teams led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and NASA Goddard will be building a prototype software infrastructure that will make it possible for the nation’s most widely used climate and weather models and systems for assimilating the latest observational data to readily operate together.

    The partners expect this “Earth System Modeling Framework” to reshape the national modeling community by vastly reducing the effort researchers must expend on developing software and by initiating an unprecedented level of cooperation among leading Earth scientists.

    The Earth System Modeling Framework will handle all communications among atmosphere, land, ocean and other models and will enable them to run on a variety of supercomputer architectures without time-consuming reprogramming. The framework will improve the fidelity and predictive capability of the models by making it much simpler for researchers to swap and compare alternative scientific approaches from many different sources.

    “This multi-agency activity is a key part of NASA’s contribution to focusing the country’s climate and weather modeling activities on problems of national priority,” Rood said.

    Applications designed for early adoption of the Earth System Modeling Framework will come from two additional investigations. A team headed by the University of California, Los Angeles will enhance coupled model simulations of the El Ni–o-Southern Oscillation and its far-flung effects on climate. Another team led by Goddard researchers will increase climate simulation accuracy by creating and coupling a land surface model/data assimilation system that captures the Earth’s water and energy cycles in near real-time.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leads the earthquake forecasting team, whose software will ingest data from Global Positioning System and Synthetic Aperture Radar satellites into simulations of Southern California’s crustal fault interactions.

    Goddard directs a second investigation focused on the western United States. The group will heighten the realism of models predicting how invasive plant species spread in national parks and wilderness areas.

    The University of Michigan heads an investigation constructing a Space Weather Modeling Framework. Solar and interplanetary satellite observations will drive predictions from linked models that span the distance from the sun’s outer atmosphere to the Earth’s upper atmosphere.

    Frameworks for simulating astrophysical phenomena will come from teams based at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, who will study star formation and the behavior of matter in microgravity environments, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, who will grapple with understanding observational data from gamma-ray bursts, phenomena believed to be the most powerful explosions in the universe.

    Encompassing the entire cosmos, a team led by the California Institute of Technology will deploy an on-demand image mosaic service for the National Virtual Observatory, an effort to meld astronomical observations stored in databases across the United States.

    All payments to the teams are tied to successful achievement of negotiated milestones. Funding for the partnerships comes from the Earth Science Technology Office’s Computational Technologies Project, which is dedicated to helping solve agency mission problems across the Earth, space, and life sciences. The 11 investigations will transfer the new capabilities to customers at NASA centers and in the wider science community.

    More information about the agreements, including award amounts, is available at: