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Creating the computer models for a disaster 2010-May-27 at 12:18 PDT

Posted by Scott Arbeit in Blog.
Tags: , , ,

I love this story.  Within a day, these people got time on a supercomputer and started working on creating 3-D models of what the oil spill might look like… especially if a hurricane comes through the Gulf, which is likely.

Researchers race to produce 3D models of BP oil spill, by Patrick Thibodeau, 26-May-2010

Scientists have embarked on a crash effort to use one the world’s largest supercomputers to create 3D models to simulate how BP’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill will affect coastal areas.

Acting within 24 hours of receiving a request from researchers, the National Science Foundation late last week made an emergency allocation of 1 million compute hours on a supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center at the University of Texas to study how the oil spreading from BP’s gusher will affect coastlines.

The goal is to produce models that can forecast how the oil may spread in environmentally sensitive areas by showing in detail what happens when oil interacts with marshes, vegetation and currents.

The amazing part of this, for me, is that we’re so close to being able to create amazingly complicated 3-D models – that even take fluid dynamics into account – that there are computer scientists today who think it’s important to do for this oil spill.

We’re not quite there – the massive computational power required to accurately model a spill like this won’t come for another few doublings of CPU, memory, storage, and the like – but we’ll be there soon.

"The hope — and I’m being optimistic — is that it would you give you a much more accurate forecast of a potential impact by geography and potentially by what kind of impact is going to occur," said Wells. The 2D models "haven’t done very well to date," he explained.

And the next time – and I hope there won’t be a next time – we’ll know exactly how to react, because we’ll be able to verify through computer modeling that our responses are optimal before we even start.  We’ll have “multiple options processed overnight” kind-of-power.  I know that doesn’t clean up the oil, but it sure helps in resource allocation.



1. Mike Wise - 2010-May-27 at 14:43 PDT

Just because they can do it doesn’t mean it is accurate. I can’t actually imagine it *will* be in any way accurate, it feels like a chaotic system. But still, why not? It will help delineate the range of possiblities.

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