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New Halstead research supercomputer enables groundbreaking Indiana climate study

Researchers from the Purdue Climate Change Research Center (PCCRC) are using ITaP’s new Halstead research supercomputer to develop high-resolution models of the climate and extreme weather events in Indiana over the next century.

Through the Indiana Climate Change Impacts Assessment project, they plan to share their conclusions with decision makers, such as government officials and industry leaders, in various sectors that will be impacted by climate change in different ways.

Purdue researchers can purchase capacity in Halstead through ITaP Research Computing’s cluster orders website.

Existing global climate models are relatively coarse-resolution and don’t show an area as small as the state of Indiana in much detail. The global models also don’t explicitly represent the physical effects of atmospheric convection (the mixing of warm, humid air with cooler air, which creates thunderstorms), something that the PCCRC team’s models will do.

“This means that our ability to predict severe rain, severe winds and severe heat stress should all be a lot better with these models,” says Matthew Huber, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue and one of the leaders of the project, along with Jeffrey Dukes, a professor of forestry and natural resources and biological sciences and the director of the PCCRC, and Michael Baldwin, an associate professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences.

The team’s high-resolution models are created through a computing-intensive process known as dynamic downscaling, and require millions of processor core hours to generate. It would take a typical personal computer hundreds of years to do, but can be accomplished on Halstead in about a month.

“This is the kind of thing that we couldn’t do if we didn’t have really outstanding computing resources,” says Dukes. “It’s a huge benefit to us to be at Purdue and to have ITaP Research Computing resources available.”

The benefits go both ways. The PCCRC team’s early use of Halstead has served as benchmarking for the cluster, helping test the machine and make it more reliable for others, something that would otherwise have to be done through artificial codes that don’t produce any output.

“This is a win-win for both ITaP and the researchers,” says Preston Smith, ITaP’s director of research services and support.

Although similar models have been created for other parts of the United States, “there is no comparable set of simulations for the Midwest,” says Huber. “(This study) is going to be unprecedented for this area.”

This clearer picture of Indiana’s future climate and weather will help stakeholders across different industries assess the varied ways in which climate change will impact them. For example, the frequency of major floods is of great concern to those building infrastructure for cities, while those in the energy sector are more interested in knowing how temperature and humidity will change over time.

To manage and share the voluminous data generated by this project, the PCCRC team is taking advantage of ITaP’s Fortress data storage service and its integrated Globus data transfer capability, through which the team plans to eventually make their data available to anyone who wants to use it. They hope it will prove useful to researchers in other fields, such as civil engineering and logistics.

“This project is going to produce hundreds of terabytes of output, so it’s a serious big data challenge,” says Huber. “I don’t know of any other university that would be capable of doing something like this.”

For more information about the new Halstead cluster, Fortress and other ITaP Research Computing resources, contact Preston Smith, psmith@purdue.edu or 49-49729.

Writer:  Adrienne Miller, science and technology writer, Information Technology at Purdue (ITaP), 765-496-8204, mill2027@purdue.edu

Last updated: January 10, 2017