This past Monday, the insanely powerful Jaguar XT5 supercomputer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee was named the fastest supercomputer in the world. With a speed of 1.759 petaflops (quadrillions of calculations per second), this incredibly swift machine is currently being used by the forces of good to solve the world’s problems – including one that is very near and dear to our hearts, climate change.
Over a billion hours of processing time on the computer have already been booked for 2010 by research institutes like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Argonne National Laboratory. NOAA for instance will be using its supercomputing time to develop high-resolution models to predict climate change on a regional scale. University of Tennessee and ORNL will be studying enzymes in plant cell walls to develop a better ethanol. And Argonne will be developing new algorithms for fast reactors that would produce smaller amounts of nuclear waste.
A $19.9 million upgrade funded with federal economic stimulus money was what allowed the new supercomputer to beat out the almost as fast IBM Roadrunner. Unlike the Roadrunner, which is used solely for studies related to nuclear weapons, Jaguar is an open tool meant to be used by various research institutes to study and solve more global issues – namely energy, climate change, enzyme studies for better fuels, medicine, nuclear security, and even exploring the origins of the universe. Maybe it’ll even be able to locate the Higgs boson!
Thomas Zacharia, the Oak Ridge Lab’s deputy director for science and technology, says about the computer, “When you make these big trillion-dollar bets on energy, it needs to be informed by the best climate science. This machine is at the intersection of better climate change science and energy technology policy.”