PSU's lightning-fast computer will model climate change
Author: Andy Giegerich, Sustainable Business Oregon
Posted: September 10, 2013

Read the original article at Sustainable Business Oregon.

Portland State University researchers will use a high-profile grant to build a computer that models climate issues.

The Gaia computer will provide 20 teraflops of power (that's fast enough to allow for 20 million calculations per second) as the school's top climate and tech brains explore how greenhouse gases affect the climate, how emissions affect air quality and the roles that small particles play in the planet's temperatures.

The Gaia, which will also help researchers study the energy efficiency of local and national transportation systems, will be 10 times more powerful than all the previously available computing power on PSU's campus.

It's backed by a $350,000 Murdock Charitable Trust grant and will be based in the school's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.

Jim Pankow, a PSU professor who specializes in chemistry and civil and engineering research, said the computer will help PSU tackle tough research questions related to climate change. He wants to look at microscopic "haze" particles as well as the role toxic compounds play in various climate equations.

"We're not running climate models that predict what temperatures will be in 2050, but we're running a lot of simulations that provide input on certain models," such as understanding which particles in the air play roles in global climates, Pankow said.

Pankow said if certain pollutants were no longer emitted, temperatures would actually rise. That's because those pollutants might emit light back into space.

"That suggests that if we put more sulphuric acid into the atmospher, we'd reverse the heating trend effect of greenhouse gases," he said.

"Of course, the fly in the ointment is that when carbon dioxide dissolves in water, it creates an acid. That leads to ocean acidification," which, in Oregon, threatens shellfish.

The transportation research will examine societal implications that occur when people change their transportation usage patterns.

Gaia will be operational by the end of this year. A second phase of the equipment will be installed by early 2015.

The Gaia computer will be shared among other researchers. Chemistry department workers will look at drug designs while geologists will study magna flow in volcanoes.

"Greenhouse gases, air particles and transportation research will be the primary areas, but we'll open it up for other people in the free time when we're not using it," Pankow said. "It's a powerful computer. It's transformational for PSU."