PSU's lightning-fast computer will model climate change
By Andy Giegerich
Sustainable Business Oregon editor
The Gaia supercomputer will examine several components of climate change.
Portland State University researchers will use a high-profile grant to build a computer that models climate issues.
The Gaia computer will provide 20 teraflops of power (that's fast enough to allow for 20 million million — that's no typo, it's 12 zeroes — calculations per second) as the school's top climate and tech brains explore how greenhouse gases affect the climate, how emissions affect air quality and the roles that small particles play in the planet's temperatures.
The Gaia, which will also help researchers study the energy efficiency of local and national transportation systems, will be 10 times more powerful than all the previously available computing power on PSU's campus.
It's backed by a $350,000 Murdock Charitable Trust grant and will be based in the school's Maseeh College of Engineering and Computer Science.
Jim Pankow, a PSU professor who specializes in chemistry and civil and engineering research, said the computer will help PSU tackle tough research questions related to climate change. He wants to look at microscopic "haze" particles as well as the role toxic compounds play in various climate equations.
"We're not running climate models that predict what temperatures will be in 2050, but we're running a lot of simulations that provide input on certain models," such as understanding which particles in the air play roles in global climates, Pankow said.
Pankow said if certain pollutants were no longer emitted, temperatures would actually rise. That's because those pollutants might emit light back into space.
"That suggests that if we put more sulphuric acid into the atmosphere, we'd reverse the heating trend effect of greenhouse gases," he said.
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