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HPC simulations helping predict impact, path of gulf oil spill

The gulf oil spill is (justifiably) receiving much of the world’s scientific and engineering attention, so it is no surprise that there are two HPC groups in the news right now working on the problem.

The University of Texas at Austin announced last week that researchers there are using Ranger — a Sun supercomputer that at one time was ranked 7th in the world and which today is still number 11 — to predict impact of oil spilling from the failed BP Deepwater Horizon oil well

TACC LogoWith an emergency allocation of one million computing hours from the National Science Foundation TeraGrid project, the researchers are running high resolution models of the Louisiana coast to track the oil spill through the complex marshes, wetlands and channels in the area.

…”What our model can do that a lot of the other models can’t do is track the oil spill up into the marshes and wetlands, because we have fine-scale resolution in those areas,” he said.

This kind of detail will help the scientists determine how the oil may spread in environmentally sensitive areas. The team’s 2-D and 3-D coastal models also will take into account the Gulf of Mexico waves, which may bring the oil closer to the Texas coast.

The researchers are running 72-hour forecasts updated with satellite data about the current location of the spill at 50-meter resolution. UT claims that this is 10-20 times more refined than other simluations being conducted. Each run takes about 3 hours on 4,096 cores.

NCAR is also working together to produce simulations about a likely path for the spill

The computer simulations indicate that, once the oil in the uppermost ocean has become entrained in the Gulf of Mexico’s fast-moving Loop Current, it is likely to reach Florida’s Atlantic coast within weeks. It can then move north as far as about Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, with the Gulf Stream, before turning east. Whether the oil will be a thin film on the surface or mostly subsurface due to mixing in the uppermost region of the ocean is not known.

The code being used is POP, and simulations are being run at the New Mexico Computer Applications Center and at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

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