5 Ways Supercomputers Help Advance Science

Supercomputers are helping scientists simulate scientific processes, make predictions and create data-based solutions, tackling the biggest scientific questions one calculation at a time.

Simulating the seas

Climate change affects the oceans as much as it affects the atmosphere. The marine environment is already registering the effects of the 0.7 degree Celsius increase in global temperatures the world has experienced since pre-industrial times. Key changes include the reduction of plankton (microorganisms that form the basis of marine food chains), coral bleaching and damage to marine ecosystems, among others.

Supercomputers could help scientists better understand the impact of these changes on the oceans. China, for example, is building an exascale supercomputer—potentially the world’s first—to support ocean research. The new machine is expected to run ten times faster than the 93-petaFLOPS Sunway TaihuLight, and will most likely be based on the coast of Shandong province.

With an expected completion date as early as 2020, the supercomputer will process data on the world’s oceans, collected from Chinese vessels, naval outposts and unmanned monitoring facilities—including a global network of buoys, sea floor sensors, underwater gliders and satellites. These data contain a wealth of information, including levels of trace chemicals, sea current readings, regional weather data and water density anomalies.

The comprehensive analysis of such vast amounts of data will allow researchers to simulate the oceans with unprecedented resolution, and hence make more reliable forecasts of important climate-related phenomena such as El Niño. Ultimately, this information will help scientists and policy makers make better-informed decisions on vital issues such as cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

Brenda obtained her MSc in Science Communications from the University of Sheffield, where she studied the possibility of gender bias in written forms of science communication. She is on a lifelong journey to bridge the communications gap between scientists and the public, and hopes to do this as a science and technology writer at Asian Scientist Magazine.

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