Researchers to study origins of Earth’s magnetic field

Computer simulation
Computer simulation of the Earth’s magnetic field.
For a group of UCLA scientists and their collaborators, an award from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for 83 million core hours of computing time on one of the world’s fastest supercomputers will accelerate to unprecedented levels pivotal research on the origins and evolution of the Earth’s magnetic field.

Led by UCLA geophysics professor Jonathan Aurnou, the team will use the Mira supercomputer at Argonne National Laboratory to simulate the generation of the Earth’s magnetic field, using Rayleigh Code, computer software designed for this specific purpose at the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics (CIG) at UC Davis. The researchers will also simulate the magnetic field generation occurring inside Jupiter and the Sun.

The project, “Frontiers in Planetary and Stellar Magnetism through High-Performance Computing,” was one of 56 announced by the DOE’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which provides access to the DOE’s Leadership Computing Facility centers at Argonne and Oak Ridge national laboratories.

Mira is an energy-efficient, 10-petaflops IBM Blue Gene/Q system capable of 10 quadrillion calculations per second. Capable of doing in one day what would be 20 years of work for an average personal computer, Mira is ranked the fifth fastest open science supercomputer in the world and, in the United States, second only to Titan at the DOE’s Oak Ridge facility. Supercomputing is used to solve challenging scientific problems in a wide range of research areas, from biology and astrophysics to materials science and renewable energy.

Aurnou has led the development of a broad array of laboratory, numerical and theoretical models of planetary fluid systems as director of the Simulated Planetary Interiors (SPIN) Lab UCLA.

“We have never been able to simulate realistic magnetic field generation in turbulent liquid metal and plasma flows, even though that is what exists inside planets and stars,” Aurnou said. “But this INCITE project will allow us for the first time to do just that.”

Said CIG director Louise Kellogg, a professor in the UC Davis Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences,“This research is now possible because geophysicists and computer scientists in the Computational Infrastructure for Geodynamics collaborated to create and share software capable of using the largest computers for geosciences research.” Supported by the National Science Foundation, CIG advances earth science by developing and disseminating software for geophysics and related fields.

In addition to providing computing time on supercomputers, the DOE award also provides expertise and support from INCITE staff to ensure that researchers make the most of the processing power of the computer.

“The INCITE program is the driver for some of the world’s most ambitious and groundbreaking computational research projects in science and engineering,” said James Hack, director of the National Center for Computational Sciences, which houses the DOE’s Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility.

Find the complete list of 2015 INCITE awards here.