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article imageNew 'Cheyenne' supercomputer aids climate science in coal country

By Karen Graham     Feb 18, 2017 in Technology
Cheyenne - In Wyoming, a state that produces 40 percent of America's coal, a new supercomputer called "Cheyenne" has come online to join the fight against climate change. The project is funded by the state of Wyoming and the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The $30 million house-sized supercomputer was put to work a few weeks ago, crunching numbers for several vital projects, including air currents at wind farms in an effort to learn how to better predict weather patterns months to years in advance.
"We believe that doing better predictions of those things have apolitical benefits," Rich Loft, a specialist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research said, according to EnGadget, "saving lives and saving money, and improving outcomes for businesses and farmers."
Initial studies using the Yellowstone supercomputer indicate that a warming climate will aggravate o...
Initial studies using the Yellowstone supercomputer indicate that a warming climate will aggravate ozone pollution over the United States in the middle of the century. However, if emissions of pollutants continue to decline, U.S. ozone levels should improve even as temperatures rise. (April 3, 2013)
UCAR. Image by Gabriele Pfister, NCAR
Located in a windy business park outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, the National Center for Atmospheric Research-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NCAR) provides research advanced computing services to researchers in the Earth systems sciences. It is the fastest computer in the Rocky Mountain West - Three times faster than the four-year-old supercomputer named Yellowstone it is replacing.
When Yellowstone was started up in 2012, it was the 13th fastest computer in the world. But just to show you how far along computer technology has come in a few short years, Cheyenne is the 20th fastest computer in the world today. It is capable of 5.34 quadrillion calculations per second, or about 240,000 faster than a high-end laptop, according to ABC News.
Cheyenne uses about 1.5 megawatts of electricity, or about the amount that would power 750 average-sized homes at any given time. On November 15, 2016, Digital Journal reported that Microsoft added two new contracts for 237 megawatts of wind energy capacity, capable of running its Cheyenne, Wyoming data center entirely on wind power. Presently, NCAR gets 10 percent of its electricity from wind farms.
The first Atlas  installed at Manchester University and officially commissioned in 1962  was one of ...
The first Atlas, installed at Manchester University and officially commissioned in 1962, was one of the world's first supercomputers, considered to be the most powerful computer in the world at that time.
Iain MacCallum
And it may surprise some people to know that Cheyenne even has supporters in the climate change denial community, including Wyoming's coal cheerleaders, staunch deniers of anthropogenic climate change. "Before we start making policy decisions on this, the science has got to be good," said Travis Deti, executive director of the Wyoming Mining Association.
Wyoming's relationship with climate science
The sheer volume of peer-reviewed studies on anthropogenic climate change, as well as the majority of scientists and science organizations, agree that the Earth is warming, but with Wyoming being the nation's major producer of coal, it makes the state's position on climate science complicated, to say the least.
Wyoming produces 40 percent of the country s coal.
Wyoming produces 40 percent of the country's coal.
Wyoming has even had problems with allowing climate science to be taught in grades K-12. Governor Matt Mead, who is suing to block the Obama administration's limit on carbon emissions from power plants and other sources, admits he is a climate change skeptic. But even so, the governor still approves of the supercomputer because he sees it as a big boost to the state's small technology sector, reports Phys.Org.
But while the current political climate is not favorable to any climate science, and owing to the fact that 70 percent of Cheyenne's cost came from the National Science Foundation, there is the real fear that projects like NCAR won't be forthcoming in the future. Under the Trump administration, the NSF could either lose its funding or the funding it gets could be shifted to other projects instead of environmental or climate science.
More about Supercomputer, Cheyenne, Wind power, climate change research, Ncar
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