Supercomputing for progress


Supercomputers have become an indispensable tool for scientific progress. The great computing power of infrastructures such as MareNostrum, which allow the processing of millions of instructions per second and the simulation of highly complex phenomena that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory, is fundamental for providing answers in different fields of science and technology.

MareNostrum, one of the most powerful supercomputers in Europe, which has a processing capacity of 94.21 teraflops (94.21 trillion operations per second), is located at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center–Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC–CNS) directed by Mateo Valero, holder of a PhD in Telecommunications Engineering and professor at the UPC-Barcelona Tech. Since it was launched in 2005 it has provided support to numerous high-quality research projects of international impact.

MareNostrum allows phenomena to be simulated that cannot be reproduced in a laboratory

One of the initiatives the BSC–CNS is currently working on is the Kaleidoscope project, developed in collaboration with Repsol. The project works to generate seismic images of the subsoil, which are then processed 14 times faster than with other technologies in order to determine the viability of offshore oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico.

The oil industry uses algorithms to analyze and interpret the maps generated by seismic imaging. Technically, what differentiates this project from others is that the team, led by José M. Cela, member of the BSC–CNS and professor at the UPC-Barcelona Tech, uses the RTM (reverse time migration) algorithm, currently the method that generates the most accurate images of the physical world. “We have created the first commercial RTM”, explains Cela. “Basically, what we’ve managed to do is accelerate the algorithm, which can now be run in a few hours, thus creating a functional technique that Repsol can use for production. And we’ve done so using all possible levels of parallelism”, he explains.

The first version of the RTM was developed using the MareNostrum JS21 processors, 4,000 of which were working on it for three months. The following step was to migrate the algorithm to another platform, the Cell processor. The project code was executed using MariCel—a supercomputer prototype based on Cell and developed by the BSC—and now the algorithm can be computed in just a few hours.

Repsol uses the new BSC–CNS technology to analyze the viability of drilling for oil

This technology puts Repsol at the vanguard in exploration of geologically complex areas where the presence of saline layers act as mirrors that prevent a view of what is underneath if using conventional technology. Proof of the impact the project has had is the multinational’s great exploratory success in 2009.

Predicting air quality
The project, dubbed Caliope, is funded by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and coordinated by José María Baldasano, director of the BSC’s Earth Sciences Section and professor at the UPC-Barcelona Tech. It aims to develop a system to predict air quality in Spain.

To develop a modeling system like this one, three key elements have been taken into account: meteorology, emissions of pollutants and atmospheric dispersion and reaction. This great amount of data is processed thanks to the computational capacity of MareNostrum, until images are obtained that show a forecast of air quality for the next 48 hours.

To add the necessary improvements to the model developed, the results obtained are compared with the real data obtained through the different measuring stations.

Another aspect specific to this project and which makes Caliope different is the fact that it is designed to work with a 12-kilometer grid resolution over Europe and a four-km one over the Iberian Peninsula and the Balearic Islands. This level of detail places it at the vanguard of such systems, since the majority currently work with grids of 10-20 km2.

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