CISL advances science in FY2015

By Brian Bevirt
01/20/2016 - 4:15pm
Hurricane Sandy simulation
CISL’s Data Analysis and Visualization (DAV) environment enables scientific workflows by providing UCAR’s research community with state-of-the-art systems tailored for the specialized needs of parallel data post-processing, analysis, and visualization. This unprecedentedly high-resolution WRF simulation of Hurricane Sandy was created on CISL’s Geyser cluster with CISL’s VAPOR software. This 500-meter simulation visualized at two angles revealed features previously unseen in other coastal cyclones, such as a surface-based warm jet that propagates as fast as wind speed. Producing hundreds of terabytes of data, this simulation demanded substantial DAV resources for analysis.

NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory (CISL) provides world-class service, science, and education for the Earth System sciences research community via a wide range of ongoing projects and innovations. CISL manages NCAR’s unique supercomputing and data services tailored to the atmospheric, geospace, and related science communities that include thousands of researchers at hundreds of universities. CISL also produces broader impacts in the community by providing leadership in high performance computing and diversifying the nation’s research workforce. CISL’s FY2015 Annual Report highlights its most recent contributions and successes in all of these areas.

CISL’s top accomplishments in FY2015 included conducting the NWSC-2 supercomputing procurement for a multi-petaflops supercomputer to replace the Yellowstone system at the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) in 2017. During this process, CISL worked with scientific, business, and technical experts from across NCAR and UCAR to determine the best value from among the various offerings to enhance our communities’ scientific productivity for the next four years.

Significant progress was made to speed up scientific workflows as well as data analysis and visualization software. The fall 2015 release of The Community Earth System Model (CESM) for the first time includes parallel data workflow tools: pyAverager and pyReshaper were developed by CISL scientists and engineers. Continuing the theme of Python integration, the NCAR Command Language (NCL) graphics software had new releases that included Python tools. Further, a new version of CISL’s highly efficient 3D visualization tool VAPOR, the Visualization and Analysis Platform for Ocean, Atmosphere, and Solar Researchers, was downloaded by more than 2,000 researchers.

CISL again provided leadership within NCAR by co-leading the NCAR-wide Data Stewardship and Engineering Team, whose goal is to define cross-NCAR data management engineering practices that lead to a better integration of NCAR’s data services. Also in collaboration with scientists from across NCAR, CISL co-led the creation of an NCAR Data Assimilation Initiative that defined a coordinated path forward that builds on the software framework provided by CISL’s Data Assimilation Research Testbed (DART).

SIParCS extern
As part of its diversity strategy, CISL provides hands-on integrated research and education experiences to students from diverse backgrounds. One important way this is done is through the Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program. For its second year offering externships, the 2015 projects for SIParCS externs were again based on low-cost Raspberry Pi computers, a technology that lowers the barrier to access HPC technologies for students from under-served colleges and universities. The team worked to build an end-to-end weather information system, including weather sensors, a data cloud, a MySQL database server/client system, and a web server with web interface for displaying the data – all based on the Raspberry Pi system. Finally, the 2015 class of the SIParCS program was the second largest in its nine-year history, with 17 students participating. It was also the most diverse, with three interns from Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), five female interns, and eight interns from seven different EPSCoR states.

The simulation acceleration efforts of CISL’s Application Scalability and Performance Group (ASAP) are producing significant results in refining NCAR applications to perform better on future computing architectures. The Strategic Program to Optimize Computing (SPOC) is also helping to lead the way by exploiting the Yellowstone supercomputer more efficiently. ASAP-optimized routines in NCAR’s Community Atmosphere Model (CAM) increased simulation speed by 150-200%, which is an important improvement because CAM represents 70% of the CESM’s execution time. Other compiler optimizations by SPOC resulted in a 15%-20% improvement in the execution of dynamics in the Model Prediction Across Scales (MPAS) model.

In 2015, CISL’s Institute for Mathematics Applied to Geosciences (IMAGe) produced five conferences designed to help Earth science researchers cope with the ever-increasing challenges of Big Data. In May, the Summer School in Data Assimilation brought together graduate students, early-career scientists, and senior scientists in environmental statistics and related fields to explore topics in applied environmental data modeling. In June, IMAGe presented a week-long Data Analytics Bootcamp for High School Students, teaching them about being a data scientist. IMAGe presented three more conferences in July, August, and September to continue developing researchers’ skills in Environmental Data Analytics, Ensemble Data Assimilation, and Climate Data Informatics. All of these conferences support the research communities’ need for coping with the Big Data challenges of today’s research environment.

Finally, the 2015 class of the Summer Internships in Parallel Computational Science (SIParCS) program was the second largest in its nine-year history, with 17 students participating. It was also the most diverse, with three interns from Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs), five female interns, and eight interns from seven different EPSCoR states.

CISL provides far more than balanced, user-friendly computational and data environments designed for the evolving requirements of the Earth System sciences. CISL also develops and delivers high-quality science and education programs to help secure the future of our scientific enterprise and the communities we serve.

To learn more about these topics and for more in-depth information about CISL's work, please see the CISL Annual Report.