Accurately modeling climate issues is a huge computational task. The National Weather Service's supercomputers, for instance, have a hard enough time generating accurate local weather forecasts just a few days out. So imagine trying to generate accurate forecasts on a global scale 50 years into the future. This is causing particular consternation when it comes to proving that man-made chemicals are causing global warming.
"Due to the complexity of climate systems and current limitations of climate models, it may take 10 or 20 years to develop clear observational or modeling proof of global warming causes," says Dr. Jonathan H. Jiang, a scientist from the Microwave Limb Sounder (MLS) team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. (See sidebar for explanation of what the team does.) "By that point it might be too late for us to prevent the climate changes."
To speed the process, MLS is now hooked into the national TeraGrid, which connects large-scale Linux clusters, using 64-bit Intel Itanium processors, at the Argonne National Laboratory, Caltech, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications and the San Diego Supercomputer Center. The sites are linked via 30-40 Gbps connections and have a combined computing capacity of 15 (soon to be 21+) teraflops and storage capacity of more than seven petabytes.