Podcast: Supercomputing the Impact of Deepwater Horizon

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Over at NICS, Scott Gibson writes that the XSEDE Extended Collaborative Support Service program is powering research on the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster on the Gulf Coast ecosystem.

Deepwater Horizon

Deepwater Horizon

Lead by Project Principal Investigator Annette Engel from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the research has uncovered fundamental changes in the types of bacterial communities associated with oil and carbon degradation of importance to oil quality and quantity, as well as to the overall ecosystem of the Gulf Coast area.

Analyses of DNA sequences from microorganisms in water, soils, and sediments inform Engel and her team about the base of ecosystem functioning in the natural environments. But while advances in DNA sequencing technology make it possible to obtain hundreds of thousands to millions of sequence reads from a single sample, Engel found that analyses of the large datasets—specifically to determine fluctuations within microbial taxonomic groups across time and space—were limited by the capabilities of her lab computers. As an XSEDE service provider, NICS was able to make HPC consultation services and an allocation on the NICS-managed Nautilus supercomputer available to Engel’s project. Engel and her team are now able to perform operational taxonomical analyses on hundreds of thousands of sequencing data and get a clearer and more comprehensive understanding of it.

Researchers will be assessing the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill for a long time to come, and HPC will accelerate and enhance the quality of discoveries that Engel and her team can add to the body of knowledge about the impact of the disaster on coastal environments.

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