Preparing for Solar Storms

By Tiffany Trader

August 26, 2013

In the absence of the sun, life as we know it would not exist. In addition to providing just the right amount of heat and light for third planet inhabitants, the sun is responsible for circadian rhythms, vitamin D production and photosynthesis. However, this life-sustaining orb also carries the potential for severe destruction. Via a phenomenon known as solar wind, the sun ejects a sea of protons, electrons and ionized atoms in all directions at speeds of a million miles per hour or more. If these particles were to reach earth, the radiation would threaten human health, while the massive onslaught of charged particles would disrupt power grids, communication networks and electronic devices.

3D global hybrid simulation of Earth’s magnetosphere. Magnetic field lines are color coded based on their origin and termination point.
Courtesy: H. Karimabadi and B. Loring. Source: NICS

Solar wind is just one kind of space weather, the term for environmental conditions in near-Earth space. Solar flares, explosive storms that occur on the surface of the sun, eject blasts of charged particles with a ferocity that’s equivalent to 10 million volcanic eruptions. Less frequent, but even more dangerous than solar wind or flares, are coronal mass ejections, or CMEs. These eruptions of plasma from inside the sun’s corona can set off space-weather events called geomagnetic storms that can wreck havoc on our planet’s inhabitants and its technology.

Nature’s shield

This non-stop space attack is held in check by a natural shield, a magnetic field known as the magnetosphere. Created by Earth’s magnetic dipole, this field extends out into space for 37,000 miles. The magnetosphere stops most charged particles from entering Earth’s atmosphere. However, it is not a perfect solution. Enough solar particles get through the magnetic net to pose a serious hazard to power grids, communication networks and living creatures.

Supercomputing to the rescue

A research group led by Homa Karimabadi of the University of California, San Diego, is investigating the effects of space weather on the magnetosphere.

“Earth’s magnetic field provides a protective cocoon, but it breaks during strong solar storms,” explains Karimabadi.

Karimabadi teamed up with visualization specialist Burlen Loring of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) to create a topological map of Earth’s magnetosphere, using the supercomputing resources at National Institute for Computational Science (NICS).

“The ‘topomap’ helps us find the location of the magnetic field lines from different sources [for example, the magnetic field of Earth versus the magnetic field of the solar wind],” said Karimabadi.

Currently, researchers can track storms, but there are no tools available for predicting storms. In this first-of-its-kind project, the researchers will leverage the map to build global kinetic simulations of the magnetosphere and space-weather effects.

The simulations are both compute- and data- intensive. A single job can require 100,000 central processing units and take 48-hours or longer to complete. It’s only since the advent of petascale supercomputers like Jaguar, Nautilus and Kraken, that such complex phenomenon as this can begin to be unraveled. And according to Karimabadi, even the fastest computers of our era still fall short. It’s ultimately an exascale problem, he says.

“Handling and analysis of massive datasets resulting from our simulations are quite challenging. Partnering with the [visualizations] group at LBNL has been critical in developing tools to analyze our data sets,” says Karimabadi.

Improved predictive capabilities are crucial in order to prepare for space-weather events. A feature article on the research notes it will lead to “a better understanding of how space weather affects our magnetosphere allows scientists to more accurately predict the impact of solar activity on our planet.”

Last July, a geometric superstorm, spawned by a CME, was narrowly avoided. If the storm had taken place only a few days sooner, there would likely have been far-reaching consequences. Such storms have the potential to take down power grids on a national or even international scale.

As previous events (in 1859 and 1989) have taught us, the danger is real. “There is an urgent need to develop accurate forecasting models,” Karimabadi asserts. “A severe space-weather effect can have dire financial and national-security consequences, and can disrupt our everyday lives on a scale that has never been experienced by humanity before.”

Related Articles

Revolutionizing Tornado Prediction

Four Applications Sustain One Petaflop on Blue Waters

NASA Scales Space Weather Simulation to 25,000 Processors

PSC’s Blacklight Supercomputer Opens New Doors in Research

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

At Long Last, Supercomputing Helps to Map the Poles

August 22, 2019

“For years,” Paul Morin wrote, “those of us that made maps of the Poles apologized. We apologized for the blank spaces on maps, we apologized for mountains being in the wrong place and out-of-date information.” Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Xilinx Says Its New FPGA is World’s Largest

August 21, 2019

In this age of exploding “technology disaggregation” – in which the Big Bang emanating from the Intel x86 CPU has produced significant advances in CPU chips and a raft of alternative, accelerated architectures... Read more…

By Doug Black

Supercomputers Generate Universes to Illuminate Galactic Formation

August 20, 2019

With advanced imaging and satellite technologies, it’s easier than ever to see a galaxy – but understanding how they form (a process that can take billions of years) is a different story. Now, a team of researchers f Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

AWS Solution Channel

Efficiency and Cost-Optimization for HPC Workloads – AWS Batch and Amazon EC2 Spot Instances

High Performance Computing on AWS leverages the power of cloud computing and the extreme scale it offers to achieve optimal HPC price/performance. With AWS you can right size your services to meet exactly the capacity requirements you need without having to overprovision or compromise capacity. Read more…

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Bring the combined power of HPC and AI to your business transformation

FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) acceleration cards are not new, as they’ve been commercially available since 1984. Typically, the emphasis around FPGAs has centered on the fact that they’re programmable accelerators, and that they can truly offer workload specific hardware acceleration solutions without requiring custom silicon. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Keys to Attracting the Newest HPC Talent – Post-Millennials

[Connect with HPC users and learn new skills in the IBM Spectrum LSF User Community.]

For engineers and scientists growing up in the 80s, the current state of HPC makes perfect sense. Read more…

Singularity Moves Up the Container Value Chain

August 20, 2019

The enterprise version of the Singularity HPC container platform released this week by Sylabs is designed to allow users to create, secure and share the high-end containers in self-hosted production deployments. The e Read more…

By George Leopold

At Long Last, Supercomputing Helps to Map the Poles

August 22, 2019

“For years,” Paul Morin wrote, “those of us that made maps of the Poles apologized. We apologized for the blank spaces on maps, we apologized for mountains being in the wrong place and out-of-date information.” Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

IBM Deepens Plunge into Open Source; OpenPOWER to Join Linux Foundation

August 20, 2019

IBM today announced it was contributing the instruction set (ISA) for its Power microprocessor and the designs for the Open Coherent Accelerator Processor Inter Read more…

By John Russell

Ayar Labs to Demo Photonics Chiplet in FPGA Package at Hot Chips

August 19, 2019

Silicon startup Ayar Labs continues to gain momentum with its DARPA-backed optical chiplet technology that puts advanced electronics and optics on the same chip Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Scientists to Tap Exascale Computing to Unlock the Mystery of our Accelerating Universe

August 14, 2019

The universe and everything in it roared to life with the Big Bang approximately 13.8 billion years ago. It has continued expanding ever since. While we have a Read more…

By Rob Johnson

AI is the Next Exascale – Rick Stevens on What that Means and Why It’s Important

August 13, 2019

Twelve years ago the Department of Energy (DOE) was just beginning to explore what an exascale computing program might look like and what it might accomplish. Today, DOE is repeating that process for AI, once again starting with science community town halls to gather input and stimulate conversation. The town hall program... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader and John Russell

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Lenovo Drives Single-Socket Servers with AMD Epyc Rome CPUs

August 7, 2019

No summer doldrums here. As part of the AMD Epyc Rome launch event in San Francisco today, Lenovo announced two new single-socket servers, the ThinkSystem SR635 Read more…

By Doug Black

High Performance (Potato) Chips

May 5, 2006

In this article, we focus on how Procter & Gamble is using high performance computing to create some common, everyday supermarket products. Tom Lange, a 27-year veteran of the company, tells us how P&G models products, processes and production systems for the betterment of consumer package goods. Read more…

By Michael Feldman

Supercomputer-Powered AI Tackles a Key Fusion Energy Challenge

August 7, 2019

Fusion energy is the Holy Grail of the energy world: low-radioactivity, low-waste, zero-carbon, high-output nuclear power that can run on hydrogen or lithium. T Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray, AMD to Extend DOE’s Exascale Frontier

May 7, 2019

Cray and AMD are coming back to Oak Ridge National Laboratory to partner on the world’s largest and most expensive supercomputer. The Department of Energy’s Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphene Surprises Again, This Time for Quantum Computing

May 8, 2019

Graphene is fascinating stuff with promise for use in a seeming endless number of applications. This month researchers from the University of Vienna and Institu Read more…

By John Russell

AMD Verifies Its Largest 7nm Chip Design in Ten Hours

June 5, 2019

AMD announced last week that its engineers had successfully executed the first physical verification of its largest 7nm chip design – in just ten hours. The AMD Radeon Instinct Vega20 – which boasts 13.2 billion transistors – was tested using a TSMC-certified Calibre nmDRC software platform from Mentor. Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

TSMC and Samsung Moving to 5nm; Whither Moore’s Law?

June 12, 2019

With reports that Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. (TMSC) and Samsung are moving quickly to 5nm manufacturing, it’s a good time to again ponder whither goes the venerable Moore’s law. Shrinking feature size has of course been the primary hallmark of achieving Moore’s law... Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Wins NNSA-Livermore ‘El Capitan’ Exascale Contract

August 13, 2019

Cray has won the bid to build the first exascale supercomputer for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Lawrence Livermore National Laborator Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Deep Learning Competitors Stalk Nvidia

May 14, 2019

There is no shortage of processing architectures emerging to accelerate deep learning workloads, with two more options emerging this week to challenge GPU leader Nvidia. First, Intel researchers claimed a new deep learning record for image classification on the ResNet-50 convolutional neural network. Separately, Israeli AI chip startup Hailo.ai... Read more…

By George Leopold

Leading Solution Providers

ISC 2019 Virtual Booth Video Tour

CRAY
CRAY
DDN
DDN
DELL EMC
DELL EMC
GOOGLE
GOOGLE
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
ONE STOP SYSTEMS
PANASAS
PANASAS
VERNE GLOBAL
VERNE GLOBAL

Nvidia Embraces Arm, Declares Intent to Accelerate All CPU Architectures

June 17, 2019

As the Top500 list was being announced at ISC in Frankfurt today with an upgraded petascale Arm supercomputer in the top third of the list, Nvidia announced its Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Top500 Purely Petaflops; US Maintains Performance Lead

June 17, 2019

With the kick-off of the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) in Frankfurt this morning, the 53rd Top500 list made its debut, and this one's for petafl Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Launches Epyc Rome, First 7nm CPU

August 8, 2019

From a gala event at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco yesterday (Aug. 7), AMD launched its second-generation Epyc Rome x86 chips, based on its 7nm proce Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Hardware That Powered the Black Hole Image

June 24, 2019

Two months ago, the first-ever image of a black hole took the internet by storm. A team of scientists took years to produce and verify the striking image – an Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Cray – and the Cray Brand – to Be Positioned at Tip of HPE’s HPC Spear

May 22, 2019

More so than with most acquisitions of this kind, HPE’s purchase of Cray for $1.3 billion, announced last week, seems to have elements of that overused, often Read more…

By Doug Black and Tiffany Trader

Chinese Company Sugon Placed on US ‘Entity List’ After Strong Showing at International Supercomputing Conference

June 26, 2019

After more than a decade of advancing its supercomputing prowess, operating the world’s most powerful supercomputer from June 2013 to June 2018, China is keep Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Qualcomm Invests in RISC-V Startup SiFive

June 7, 2019

Investors are zeroing in on the open standard RISC-V instruction set architecture and the processor intellectual property being developed by a batch of high-flying chip startups. Last fall, Esperanto Technologies announced a $58 million funding round. Read more…

By George Leopold

Intel 7nm GPU on Roadmap for 2021, OneAPI Coming This Year

May 8, 2019

At Intel's investor meeting today in Santa Clara, Calif., the company filled in details of its roadmap and product launch plans and sought to allay concerns about delays of its 10nm chips. In laying out its 10nm and 7nm timelines, Intel revealed that its first 7nm product would be... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This