Awards brighten weather forecasting

NASA High Performance Computing and Communications

In an effort to make climate modeling more than a near-term science, NASA last week announced the selection of nine proposals for advanced computing systems capable of handling large amounts of Earth sciences data.

The award winners will help to develop models that can work together to map out the global climate further in advance. The models should also be able to aid in the identification and prediction of regional and local phenomena, such as hurricanes.

The winning teams were notified Monday. Once negotiations with NASA are completed over the next 60 days, the recipients and their award values will be publicly announced this fall, said James Fischer, Earth and Space Science project manager of NASA's High Performance Computing and Communications (HPCC) program at the Goddard Space Flight Center.

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin, keynote speaker Wednesday at Silicon Graphics Inc.'s federal high-performance computing summit in Silver Spring, Md., called on the private sector, educational institutions and government agencies to begin exploring and using next-generation, nontraditional computational models to meet the computing power needs of things such as weather and climate-modeling programs.

"Modeling climate is the single toughest problem we have except for modeling aircraft and spacecraft," Goldin said. "Get to work," he demanded of those in attendance.

NASA selected the nine proposals in response to an agencywide solicitation announced in 2000. The proposals selected will now have their costs negotiated, with science teams expected to finish a joint-framework policy by 2003. NASA has committed $18 million to this development phase, with the expectation that the first advanced Earth system models will begin production in 2004.

"The selection of these proposals will take us down the path toward improving both weather and climate predictive capabilities by three to five times over our current computing power," said Ghassem Asrar, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Earth Sciences, in a release. "We need to make a leap from today's segmented and evolutionary systems to a unified, revolutionary pathway into the future of advanced computing."

In related NASA news, the HPCC program was a budget casualty, but the Earth and Space Science project will survive under a new name next year, Fischer said. The only other project to survive the budget ax under the HPCC umbrella was Learning Technologies, which will also live on with a new name next year, he said.

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