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How supercomputers can help save the planet

LUMI, one of the fastest and greenest supercomputers in the world, will enable scientists to build a 'digital twin' of the earth to better understand the impact of human activity on climate change.

LUMI, one of the world's fastest supercomputers, is the size of a tennis court, with a three-layer, 117-petabyte storage system. Even more impressive is that it's also one of the greenest high-performance computers deployed today, powered using 100 percent carbon-neutral hydroelectricity, according to Pekka Manninen, director of the LUMI Leadership Computing Facility at the CSC (IT Center for Science) data center in Kajaani, Finland, where the system is installed.

In this Tech Talk episode with Robert Christiansen, vice president of strategy in the Office of the CTO at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Manninen gives an overview of how LUMI will be used to address complex problems like climate change—and serve as a model for more energy-efficient HPC operations around the globe.

The Swiss Army knife of supercomputing

"LUMI has been designed from the beginning with this kind of Swiss Army knife design in mind," Manninen says, meaning it will be used in different ways for a broad range of use cases—from healthcare research and weather forecasting to development of autonomous vehicles and urban and rural planning.

LUMI's unified analytics platform will enable analysis of large datasets and data repositories via machine learning and more traditional data modeling, including support for cutting-edge, large-scale simulation, he says.

Please read: Supercomputers, AI, and the power of big datasets

Given this massive volume of data, an ongoing question will be how to move and manage all of it, the experts say.

"Obviously, we're going to need some edge-style capacity to pillar out the data and the supercomputing facilities: Where do we generate new data via simulation or take the data that we need to process with supercomputing capacity?" he says. "The most challenging data management problems are probably going to need unique solutions that combine edge computing, cloud, and supercomputing facilities."

Solving real-world problems

One of the most pressing challenges LUMI will help tackle is climate change.

"Climate change is something where we don't have any time to wait," Manninen notes. To find solutions, scientists will need to "take every single piece of information and insight that we can collect" and, with significant public investment, develop high-fidelity, high-resolution modeling of the earth's oceans, cryosphere, land mass, and global atmosphere.

Toward that goal, the European Union has launched Destination Earth, a program to build "a numerical, digital twin out of earth," Manninen says. Using this model, scientists hope to better understand how climate adapts to human actions.

Please read: Six ways the world's fastest computers have changed your life

"We can have a representation of how we see the climate in a very, very high resolution with a basic prediction if we don't change anything," he explains. "So, if we vary a particular variable like trees, we can say, 'If we put this many trees into the ground, what does that do to climate? Or if a volcano erupts, what's that going do to the climate and what impact does that have? If we were to reduce the number of carbon-burning automobiles, what would happen?'"

As supercomputers like LUMI enable climate experts to make better predictions about the effects of human activity, "we'll have a path to make the right political decisions that can somehow impact or slow down climate change," Manninen says.

"I mean, the sky is the limit," he adds. "Once the machinery of these high-resolution global models is there, we can always add a smaller competence for understanding a derivative or an impact—say, biodiversity, or some human action" related to agriculture, fishery, and the like.

Carbon-neutral HPC

Not only will LUMI enable new insights on climate change, but its site will also act as a model for how other supercomputing installations can lessen their impact on the planet by reducing, or even eliminating, their own carbon emissions. Using 100 percent hydroelectric power, the CSC data center is showing "the rest of the world that it's entirely possible to operate big HPC systems in a carbon-neutral—or even carbon-negative—manner," Manninen says, noting that the surrounding city of Kajaani will use LUMI's excess heat to cut its consumption of fossil fuels by 20 percent.

"As a business, [being carbon-neutral] is an important move," he says. "But at the same time, we want to prove and we want to encourage that whether it's HPC or a large-scale data warehouse or hyperscaler activity, it's something that everybody should do."

Listen to other episodes of Tech Talk.

This article/content was written by the individual writer identified and does not necessarily reflect the view of Hewlett Packard Enterprise Company.