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HPC Connects: Mapping Global Ocean Currents

Dimitris Menemenlis NASA JPL/Caltech

In this video from the SC17 HPC Connects series, Dimitris Menemenlis from NASA JPL/Caltech describes how scientists are working hand in hand with visualization experts to bring exquisitely detailed views of Earth’s oceans into sharper focus than ever before.

“The ocean is what makes life possible on this beautiful planet,” said Dr. Dimitris Menemenlis, Research Scientist in the Earth Science Section at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, Calif. “We should therefore try to understand and study and know how it works.”

Menemenlis has been doing just that—collaborating with other experts for two decades to continually improve data assimilation and numerical modeling techniques in order to achieve increasingly accurate descriptions of the global ocean circulation.  Numerical global ocean simulations today have horizontal grids cells spaced by 1 to 2 kilometers, compared to 25 to 100 kilometers 20 years ago.

We are working with people at NASA centers, universities, and labs around the world who are looking for answers to important questions such as how ocean heat interacts with land and sea ice, how ice melt could raise sea levels and affect coastal areas, how carbon in the atmosphere is changing seawater chemistry, and how currents impact the ocean carbon cycle,” stated Menemenlis.

The new simulation accurately represents temperature and salinity variations in the ocean caused by a wide range of processes, from mesoscale eddies to internal tides. This simulation gives scientists a better picture of how ocean currents carry nutrients, carbon dioxide, and other chemicals to various locations around the world. These improvements are made possible by evolving supercomputer capabilities, satellite and other observational methods, and visualization methods.”

In particular, visualization and data analysis experts in the NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) Division at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley have developed an interactive visualization technique that allows scientists to explore the entire global ocean on NAS’s 128-screen hyperwall and then zoom in on specific regions in near-real-time. Menemenlis says the new capability helps to quickly identify interesting ocean phenomena in the numerical simulation, that would otherwise be difficult to discover.

Scientists making satellite and in situ ocean observations can use the results from the simulation to better understand the observations and what they tell us about the ocean’s role in our planet’s weather and climate. The ultimate goal is to create a global, full-depth, time-evolving description of ocean circulation that is consistent with the model equations as well as with all the available observations.

The ocean is vast and there are still a lot of unknowns. We still can’t represent all the conditions and are pushing the boundaries of current supercomputer power,” said Menemenlis. “This is an exciting time to be an oceanographer who can use satellite observations and numerical simulations to push our understanding of ocean circulation forward.”

Registration is now open for SC17, which takes place Nov. 12-17 in Denver.

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