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Nov. 13, 2001

Michael Mewhinney

NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.

Phone: 650/604-3937 or 650/604-9000

Gregory Slabodkin


Phone: 301/595-2618

Lynn Chandler

NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greembelt, Md.

Phone: 301/286-2806



NASA scientists can now evaluate the global impact of natural and human-induced activities on climate and better predict probable climate patterns in the future, thanks to the world's first 1,024-processor supercomputer.

The newly installed 1,024-processor machine at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, along with a 512-processor supercomputer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md., are producing a 10-fold improvement in Earth science applications. Scientists say the performance gains achieved on these supercomputing systems will allow the United States to develop objective policies for large, future industrial activities, such as urban planning, and for examining alternative plans for urban development. The supercomputers -- SGI™ Origin™ 3800 machines -- also can portray current climate more quantitatively and simulate future global warming scenarios.

"The new 1024-processor SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer at NASA Ames will lead to faster and better development of climate models for the Earth science community, government and industry," said William Feiereisen, chief of the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) division at Ames. "We have improved our ability to merge observed data and simulation by a factor of 10 with considerably greater increases in the core climate solver. Such a substantial increase in performance allows Earth scientists to complete climate simulations in days, rather than months, leading to a better understanding of how human activity has changed climate patterns."

For the past three years, NASA Ames and SGI have been testing the limits of single-system-image shared memory, in which all processors share the supercomputer's memory as if it were a single entity, to improve performance significantly over other clustered architectures. A series of joint research agreements between SGI and NASA Ames has resulted in SGI expanding the original SGI Origin 2000 product offering from 128 to 512 CPUs, and most recently from 512 to 1,024 CPUs for the SGI Origin 3000 product line.

"The new techniques have demonstrated a development path that will allow us to move forward to100-times performance improvements over the next few years," said James Taft, co-director of the Advanced Computing Technologies Group at Ames. "At these performance levels, we can begin to execute climate simulations at truly high resolution, while taking advantage of the huge data streams emerging from the latest Earth resources satellites."

To improve the prediction capabilities of the climate models, the 1,024-processor SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer at NASA Ames assimilates thousands of gigabytes of observational data from the whole Earth to create a database for verifying the physics of the computer model. NASA Ames then backs up a few years and runs the climate model to see how good its predictions are. The computer models then can be adjusted to improve their accuracy for future predictions.

A memorandum of agreement with NASA Ames placed a separate 512-processor SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer at NASA Goddard, which is only the second site in the world to put an SGI Origin 3800 of this type into production.

"This collaboration between Goddard and Ames to acquire the latest supercomputing technology grants NASA scientists a significant new capability for understanding the intricacies of our planet's climate system," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, Associate Administrator for the Office of Earth Sciences, NASA Headquarters, Washington, D.C. "For instance, the Goddard Institute for Space Studies has been able to complete in two months research that would have taken six months on their previous computing platform. This latest supercomputing technology will grant NASA scientists a significant new capability for understanding the intricacies of our planet's climate system and being able to simulate them," Asrar added.

The primary user of the new SGI Origin 3800 supercomputer is Goddard's Data Assimilation Office (DAO), which is preparing for the Aqua satellite by building NASA's next-generation software for incorporating observations into global climate models. Data assimilation uses observations from satellites and other sources to define the physical processes that make up weather and climate.

"With the SGI Origin 3800, NASA will more than double the amount of data it ingests to 800,000 observations each day," said Dr. Richard B. Rood, DAO senior scientist and acting director of the NASA-NOAA Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation. "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 SGI Origin 3800's processing power, along with the multi-level parallelism (MLP) software developed by Taft, which takes advantage of its unique memory design, will enable the DAO climate models to run more than four times faster and at double the resolution. Climate models divide the globe into a grid of stacked boxes, solving the relevant equations in each box and then assembling the full results. With a box only 1/2-degree wide (or 30 miles over the continental United States), the model will more faithfully represent atmospheric conditions worldwide for periods as long as 15 years.

"These advances will reduce uncertainties in the climate assessments that are an essential ingredient of the U.S. Global Change Research Program," Rood noted.

Image Caption: The world's first 1,024-processor supercomputer, newly installed at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, allows NASA scientists to evaluate the global impact of natural and human-induced activities on climate and better predict probable climate patterns in the future. Click on image

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