NCAR's 'Blue Sky' to spur climate, weather research

November 15, 2001

BOULDER--Atmospheric scientists around the country will soon have access to powerful new computational, storage, and communications technologies provided by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its parent organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR). NCAR and UCAR announced today the purchase of a new IBM SP supercomputer, to be followed by latest- generation technologies, code-named Blue Sky, in a three-phase acquisition.

The new system is expected to accelerate research in global and regional climate change, droughts, short- and long-range weather prediction and warnings, wildland fires, turbulence, atmospheric chemistry, space weather, and other critical areas. The National Science Foundation, NCAR's primary sponsor, purchased the machine for use at NCAR to advance a wide range of research topics in the agency's ten-year plan for the geosciences.

According to NCAR director Timothy Killeen, "The addition of Blue Sky to NCAR's computing center is the single biggest increment in raw computing power in NCAR history. It will provide U.S. scientists with speed, efficiency, and data storage space they need to stay at the forefront of climate, weather, and many other essential areas of research." The center provides supercomputing power, instrumentation, and aircraft to atmospheric researchers at universities around the nation.

The acquisition begins this fall with the delivery of a suite of equipment that more than doubles the computational capacity of NCAR's current IBM SP to a peak of two trillion calculations per second. It will increase the lab's current disk storage capacity fivefold, up to 10.5 trillion bytes, or characters, of data.

A second delivery, in September 2002, will introduce IBM's next- generation processors, nodes, and other hardware, bringing the peak speed up to seven trillion calculations per second. The package will also include 21 terabytes of new disk storage. In the fall of 2003, NCAR will receive IBM's next round of switch technology, whose lower latency and higher bandwidth will significantly increase signal speed.

The increase in NCAR's computing capacity will directly benefit climate change research. For example, NCAR's premier computer model of Earth's climate simulates a century of climate in 29 days of computing time. NCAR's current IBM SP system, code named blackforest, is capable of running 6 such simulations simultaneously in that time. The equipment installed this year ups the number to 14 simulations in a month. A year from now, when the second phase of new equipment kicks in, the combined power of all IBM SP systems will allow nearly 50 one-century climate simulations per month.

Earth's weather and climate result from a complex interplay of physical, chemical, and biological processes of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and sea ice. Understanding and predicting Earth's climate system, particularly climate variation and possible human-induced climate change, presents one of the most difficult challenges in science. As computer models of the global climate system become increasingly sophisticated, supercomputers must continually stretch their limits to meet the needs of the scientific community.
The University Corporation for Atmospheric Research is a consortium of 66 universities offering Ph.D.s in atmospheric and related sciences. UCAR manages NCAR under sponsorship by the National Science Foundation.

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John Buscemi, IBM

National Center for Atmospheric Research/University Corporation for Atmospheric Research

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