Yellowstone supercomputer helps improve understanding of climate and pollution

By Marijke Unger
05/06/2014 - 12:00am

A new study seeking to understand how climate change will affect air quality and ozone pollution was among the first conducted on the new 1.5-petaflop Yellowstone supercomputer. The IBM system, operated by NCAR and supported by funding from the NSF and the University of Wyoming, is one of the world’s most powerful computers specifically dedicated to research in the atmospheric and related sciences.

Air pollution along the Colorado Front Range is visible below an inversion layer in this aerial image taken in February of 2012. (Image courtesy Marijke Unger.)

Air pollution is visible in this aerial image of an inversion layer taken along the Colorado Front Range in February of 2012. (Photo courtesy Marijke Unger.)

Thanks to its computing power, the scientists were able to simulate pollution levels hour by hour for 39 hypothetical summers. This allowed the team to account for year-to-year variations in meteorological conditions, such as hot and dry vs. cool and wet, thereby getting a more detailed and statistically significant picture of future pollution levels.

To simulate the interplay of global climate with regional pollution conditions, the scientists turned to two of the world's leading atmospheric models, both based at NCAR and developed through broad collaborations with the atmospheric science community. They used the Community Earth System Model, funded primarily by the Department of Energy and NSF, to simulate global climate as well as atmospheric chemistry conditions. They also used an air chemistry version of the multiagency Weather Research and Forecasting model to obtain a more detailed picture of regional ozone levels.

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