Supercomputer launched to study sea level rise

November 2, 2008 at 5:48 am | Posted in Climate science research | Leave a comment
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If temperatures increase and ice sheets continue to melt, it’s certain sea level will rise.  What’s less certain is by how much and how much fast.

Answering those number questions will take more study of the ice sheets that sit atop Greenland and the Antarctic.

And lots of math.    

A new supercomputer being deployed in Wales is about to be set to work running the many numbers involved. 

The computer – called Blue Ice – will be used to study the behavior of melting polar ice sheets. 

Currently, global climate models, which are run on computers to make projections about future climate, are not able to see all of the important aspects of ice.  While they recognize that a loss of ice means a loss of white areas on the earth’s surface that reflect sunlight, the models are not as smart about assessing ice sheet’s internal physics. 

Blue Ice, which was turned on at Swansea University in Wales on Oct. 31, will be used to study just how glaciers and ice sheets behave in the face of warming. 

According to, Tavi Murray, professor at Swansea University, said:

“With many glaciers experiencing rapid thinning, time is of the essence in discovering the effects of these drastic changes. 

“This is where Blue Ice can help.  Its main system has 640 cores and a peak performance of 6.8 Teraflops [an industry-recognized measure of high performance computing where ‘Tera’ equals 1,012 and ‘flops’ stands for floating point operations per second], while its neighboring cell based development platform provides an additional 3.6 Teraflops performance.”

Knowing a good range for how much sea level could rise as ice melts and the ocean’s waters warm and expand is critical for policymakers trying to plan for climate change.  The possible range, however, has been controversial.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s most recent report projects a rise between 18 centimeters and 59 centimeters by 2100.  But others have called that projection far too cautious. 


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