- Associated Press - Saturday, May 16, 2015

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - To see it in operation, “glamorous” probably isn’t the right word to describe the Yellowstone supercomputer, with its dozens of rows of Spartan servers humming away day and night.

But what’s going on within Yellowstone’s thousands of processors are some of the most elegant calculations ever performed - complex weather modeling, precise simulations and problem solving that would take even the most accomplished mathematicians millions of years to do on their own.

Since it first went online in October 2012, Yellowstone has proven itself a goldmine for researchers. Located at the National Center for Atmospheric Research’s Wyoming Supercomputing Center just west of Cheyenne, Yellowstone has been used to do complex calculations for nearly 600 research projects in the last year alone.

In that time, it has been providing insights that, even just a few years ago, were simply beyond the scope of anything researchers could reach on their own.

“They’ve touched on all kinds of topics - things like weather, ocean sciences, atmospheric chemistry, climate change,” said David Hosansky, a spokesman for NCAR, based in Boulder, Colorado.

“Computer models are getting more and more complex - there are so many variables that affect the atmosphere or the ground. Yellowstone allows scientists to study the Earth in much more detail and find out much more about all kinds of processes that can affect society, from severe weather to geomagnetic storms to subterranean faults.”

Hosansky said it’s detail that researchers depend on when determining how, for example, the next 20 years of human development might impact the hydrology of the Colorado River Basin. But it takes a supercomputer like Yellowstone - capable of performing 1.5 quadrillion calculations every second - that can actually take such variables and create reliable, accurate predictions in a reasonable timeframe.

University of Wyoming atmospheric science professor Bart Geerts is among the researchers who have been able to use Yellowstone for fruitful research.

During the past two years, Geerts has been using Yellowstone to model the effects of cloud seeding, in which silver iodide is released into storm clouds to increase the amount of snow they produce.

Geerts said that while cloud seeding has been going on for decades, it’s been difficult to tell just how useful the practice has been.

But using Yellowstone to model exactly what happens when clouds are seeded, he has been able to come to some fascinating conclusions.

“Yellowstone allows us to simulate what has not been possible - until now, that is - clouds and the snow growth processes over mountains with and without seeding to evaluate the value of seeding,” Geerts said. “Operators have been seeding clouds since the 1950s without much evidence that it works. But this has shown conclusively that the preponderance of evidence points to an increase in snowfall under the right conditions.”

Geerts said Yellowstone allowed him to model the weather’s flow field in 100-meter increments, from the ground all the way up to the highest reaches of the atmosphere. He was then able to simulate what happens when silver iodide is introduced at various altitudes and in different types of storms.

“We found that it tends to increase the concentration of snowflakes, and, according to the model, in all cases it increases snowfall on the ground in narrow swaths, but it doesn’t disperse that widely,” Geerts said. “The increases depend on the type of storm; sometimes it’s a 10 percent increase, sometimes it’s a doubling of the snowfall rate. And not every storm is seed-able - only about one-third of the winter storms in Wyoming appear to be seed-able.”

Geerts said Yellowstone played an invaluable role in his research, which he said would have been impossible without the processing power the supercomputer provides.

“It’s an unprecedented resource,” he said.

And Geerts’ research is just one of many such projects that UW has undertaken with Yellowstone. Other UW researchers have been using the supercomputer to analyze seismic hazards for earthquake engineering in California, the aerodynamic effects of turbulence on aircraft, and even how planets form from the leftover dust of new stars.

UW isn’t the only institution benefiting from Yellowstone’s capabilities. NCAR’s own scientists also have been making frequent use of the computer to analyze issues like how rising temperatures could lead to a marked increase in ground-level air pollution over the next several decades.

Last year, NCAR scientist Gabriele Pfister was able to use Yellowstone to model pollution levels hour by hour for 39 consecutive hypothetical summers. She concluded that, if industrial emissions continue at their current rate through 2050, people can expect to see substantially more days in which the air quality is deemed unhealthy due to ozone concentrations.

“This research would not have been possible even just a couple of years ago,” Pfister said in May 2014. “Without the new computing power made possible by Yellowstone, you cannot depict the necessary detail of future changes in air chemistry over small areas, including the urban centers where most Americans live.”


Information from: Wyoming Tribune Eagle, https://www.wyomingnews.com

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