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Climate Researchers Tap 4,000-Chip IBM Supercomputer

Scientists will use the Bluefire computer to model drought patterns, agricultural seasons, global warming, and hurricane development.

One of the nation's top research centers for the study of weather and climate has installed an IBM supercomputer that runs more than 4,000 processors and is capable of performing 76 trillion floating point operations per second.

Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research will use the 76-teraflop Bluefire computer to model drought patterns, agricultural seasons, global warming, and hurricane development.

"Increasingly fast machines are vital to research into such areas as climate change and the formation of hurricanes and other severe storms," said Tom Bettge, director of operations and services at NCAR's Computational and Information Systems Laboratory, in a statement Thursday.

Researchers will also use Bluefire to generate simulations for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's next report on global warming -- a controversial theory that claims the earth's temperature is rising due to man-made carbon emissions.

"Bluefire will substantially expand the organization's ability to investigate climate change, severe weather events, and other subjects," said Dave Turek, VP of deep computing at IBM.

Bluefire more than triples computing power at NCAR, as it's replacing three older supercomputers with an aggregate processing speed of 20 teraflops. One teraflop is equal to 1 trillion floating decimal point operations per second.

Bluefire is part of NCAR's effort to build a computing platform called the Integrated Environment for Scientific Simulation. The system is set to go live in August.

Bluefire, officially known as the IBM Power 575 supercomputer, runs 4,046 IBM Power 6 microprocessors with a clock speed of 4.7 GHz. It also includes 12 TB of memory and 150 TB of disk storage.

The system uses water cooling technology that IBM says is 33% more efficient than air-cooled setups. NCAR is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

An IBM spokesman was not immediately able to provide an estimate of Bluefire's cost. NCAR officials were not available for comment.

Editor's Note: This story was updated May 9 to correct the name of the microprocessor used in the supercomputer.

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