E3SM (DOE Science/YouTube)

Earth modeling system built for exascale

Understanding and simulating the movements of the Earth's land, atmosphere, ice and oceans can generate insights for energy, weather, coastal vulnerability, biology and national security. But this analysis has not been possible because of limitations in current computing technologies. That’s why the Department of Energy has spent four years building a new modeling system, the Energy Exascale Earth System Model.

Described as “the first end-to-end multi-scale Earth system model,” E3SM forecasts how land, air and water systems interact. It will have weather-scale resolution and eventually use exascale computers to create more finely resolved models through new processes and improved computational performance.  It will simulate regional air and water temperatures, water availability, sea level rise and extreme events like floods and droughts, according DOE officials.  It aims to address the most challenging climate-change research problems and core DOE mission needs while efficiently using resources of the national laboratories.

“This model adds a much more complete representation between interactions of the energy system and the earth system,” said David Bader, the lead of the E3SM project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “The increase in computing power allows us to add more detail to processes and interactions that results in more accurate and useful simulations than previous models.”

The model has been developed to run on exascale computers, the first of which is expected to go online in 2021. Prototype exascale machines have run the model, and  shown it “run[s] faster and uses less power than on conventional architectures,” Mark Taylor, the project's chief computations scientist, said in a video explaining E3SM.

E3SM generally requires a cluster with several hundred nodes to run a scientifically validated case at a useful simulation speed. It is possible, however, to run low-resolution versions of E3SM on workstations or even laptops, according to the project website.

The E3SM project will soon convert to an open development project to allow collaboration with more groups and centers. Model code and documentation, as well as output from an initial set of benchmark simulations, will be posted on GitHub.

“With the new system, we’ll be able to more realistically simulate the present, which gives us more confidence to simulate the future,” Bader said.

About the Author

Matt Leonard is a former reporter for GCN.

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