Mike's Wx Blog: October - December 2011

NCAR's New Super Cool Super Computer

WOW!! Cool Stuff!!

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) recently announced that IBM will install critical components of a petascale supercomputing system at the new NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC). The IBM components consist of a massive central resource for file and data storage, a high performance computational cluster, and a resource for visualizing the data.

The IBM system, named Yellowstone, is expected to be delivered to the NWSC early next year. It will be the new facility’s inaugural system. Once installed, the system will go through a testing period before being made fully available for scientific research in the summer of 2012.

It will have 149.2 terabytes of memory, 74,592 processor cores, and a peak computational rate of 1.6 petaflops. A petaflop is one quadrillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) floating point operations per second.

At 1.6 petaflops, Yellowstone will be capable of more than 221,000 calculations per second for every one of the 7 billion people on Earth!

Another analogy to relate the power of the new computer compared to an average PC goes as follows... If your PC were a few grains of sand, Yellowstone would be the entire beach!

The Yellowstone system features 9.7 million times the computational rate, 3.4 million times the disk capacity, and 19 million times the central memory size of one of the world’s first supercomputers, the Cray 1-A, which supported NCAR’s computational science between 1977 and 1989.

Taken together, these components will dramatically improve capabilities central to NCAR’s mission, such as climate modeling, forecasting, and preservation of critical research data. The NWSC will serve researchers across the United States and around the world who will interact with its systems remotely.

Scientists will use these advanced computing resources to understand complex processes in the atmosphere and throughout the Earth system, and to accelerate research into climate change, severe weather, geomagnetic storms, carbon sequestration, aviation safety, wildfires, and other critical geoscience topics.

“Yellowstone will provide needed computing resources to greatly improve our understanding of Earth and produce significant benefits to society,” says Anke Kamrath, director of operations and services for NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL). “We are very pleased to have such a high-performance system inaugurate the new supercomputing center.”

“The vision for Yellowstone parallels the principles that have guided the design of the NWSC,” says NCAR director Roger Wakimoto. “In both instances, we have taken an approach that maximizes the science we can do and the benefit of that science to society.”

TheNCAR Website has much more information!

Making of a Meteorologist

I have wanted to be a meteorologist since I was about 7 years old. I always liked watching storms! Snowstorms, thunderstorms, wind, rain, hail - you name it, I enjoyed watching it! I have, over the years, gained a great deal of respect for the severe, damaging storms that we can endure - so I enjoy the power of storms, but not the destruction.

I began my TV career in Madison, Wisconsin, at the ABC affiliate that had the great call sign of WKOW - W( COW ) in the dairy state. From Madison, we moved to St Louis and finally, 20 years ago to Denver. Over the years in Colorado, I have visited a couple thousand schools and have spoken to about a quarter of a million students. My motivation was not just get the kids and their parents to tune in that evening, but to try and get young people interested in science and the environment.

I have never expected that my visit to an elementary school would result in 200 future TV meteorologists, but I hoped that it might inspire people to want to question and learn more about the natural world. If young people can become excited about nature and the environment, they will be better learners and smarter consumers. We need to get our nation back on track as we have great things to accomplish in the years ahead.

JFK and the New Frontier

Fifty years ago, John F. Kennedy won the presidential election in a breathtakingly close race. The 1960s were just beginning and would be a decade that would change the world. Half a century later, I am not sure what JFK would make of this nation. When Kennedy accepted the nomination for President, he delivered what became known as the New Frontier speech. He spoke of an old era ending, saying that "the old ways will not do", he noted that America had seen a "slippage in our intellectual and moral strength".

Kennedy said, "The New Frontier of which I speak is not a set of promises; it is a set of challenges. It sums up not what I intend to offer the American people, but what I intend to ask of them. It appeals to their pride, not to their pocketbook. It holds out the promise of more sacrifice instead of more security."

JFK hoped to renew a sense of national purpose in which shared values, civic participation and mutual sacrifice would get our country moving in the right direction. Fifty years ago, Americans were inspired with the idea that they could improve their circumstances, right wrongs and achieve great things. The Interstate highway system was under construction, the Civil Rights movement was gaining momentum and soon, we would be heading for the moon!

The Thrill and Inspiration of Space

It was in and shortly after that era that I grew up, in Madison, Wisconsin. The thrill of the space program inspired us as a nation and inspired me to become a scientist. But something has happened to our nation in recent years. Cynicism has replaced optimism, selflessness has been supplanted by greed and the bottom line has become the finish line. We seem fearful instead of optimistic and for some reason, we rank scientific ignorance as a virtue.

It does not have to be that way. Kennedy spoke of a choice "between national greatness and national decline". We still have that choice. We have the power to help make our state, our nation, our world a better place.

Climate Change - Is There Really A Big Controversy?

One of the issues that I am keenly interested in is climate change. In recent years, this issue has become as much political science as it is physical science. In that light, there is a seemingly large controversy about what is happening and to what extent mankind is helping to cause the changes. In the strict world of truly peer reviewed science, the degree of controversy is not nearly as great as some would have you believe.

A large majority of climate scientists are in agreement that the overall warming of the planet has been caused in part by mankind. This warming is due to the increase of so called "greenhouse gases" - such as CO2, methane and CFCs (chloro-fluorocarbons). These gases absorb outgoing heat from our planet and "reflect" it back to Earth. When this happens, energy from the Sun is trapped in our atmosphere and warms our climate.

There is an often quoted issue of 1997 being the warmest year and that global temperatures have cooled since that time. This information is misleading. In 1997, the world climate was influenced by one of the strongest El Nino events ever recorded. This pool of very warm Pacific Ocean water bumped global temperatures higher. At the present time, the Pacific in is the midst of a La Nina - cooler sea surface temperatures. These periodic warming and cooling episodes need to be taken into consideration in the the overall global temperature trend.

Weather is What You Get, Climate is What You Expect

You hear an awful lot of comment about unusual local weather events such as snow in Las Vegas or extreme cold weather in Texas. It is important to understand that short term weather is to climate as one play in a football game is to the entire NFL season.

One of the best lines that I have heard about our climate and it’s unpredictability is that "climate is like an angry bear, we keep prodding and irritating it, and the results will likely be both severe and unpredictable".

Energy, Environment & National Security

Even if we found out in 30 years that humans did not have the power to change the climate, we will be much better off to have taken the steps to use less fuel and conserve our fragile planet. We will need every bit of cooperation from all sides to truly solve the energy/environment issues that face us in the coming decades. I doubt that we will come to terms with reducing carbon emissions, the population growth alone will preclude that. In addition, the growing 3rd world does not want to live in a hut with one light bulb, they want the same things we enjoy.

Where will we get the energy? Fossil fuels are amazing, but the demand will only soar. We are tranferring so much wealth to other countries and there is no way that we could ever domestically replace what we must import. From a national economic and security point alone, we have to widen our energy portfolio. Wouldn't it be great to be able to tell OPEC, Russia, Venezuela that "we really don't need your oil".

Granted, we get much of our oil from Canada and some other "friendlier" nations, but it is a fungible commodity - that world oil price is still enriching the coffers of nations and regimes that do like us and that puts the U.S. in a position of weakness.

I am not opposed to coal, we have a lot of it - but we must figure out ways to mine it and burn it better. Our energy portfolio needs to be varied - nuclear, natural gas, wind, solar, geothermal. We need it all and we need to create a smarter grid.

New Frontier Reboot

I hate for America to not be at the energy forefront in the 21st Century. We can lead the world with better and cleaner ways to make power, we have done it before with major endevours. The Transcontinental Railroad in the 1880s, the Manhatten Project, The Interstate Highways, The Space Program, the Computer Revolution.

Instead of bowing down to special interests, we must do the right things. To paraphrase JFK, "not because they are easy, but because they are hard."

We can solve the energy and environmental issues in the coming decades and play a leading role in changing the World. I will close these comments with one of my favorite quotes, attributed to Albert Einstein - "The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them."

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