The United States is reclaiming a global top spot in high-performance computing to support weather and climate forecasts. NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, [February 20, 2020] announced a significant upgrade to computing capacity, storage space, and interconnect speed of its Weather and Climate Operational Supercomputing System. This upgrade keeps the agency’s supercomputing capacity on par with other leading weather forecast centers around the world.
“We are committed to put America back on top of international leadership with the best weather forecasts, powered by the fastest supercomputers and world-class weather models,” said Neil Jacobs, Ph.D., acting NOAA administrator.
Two new Cray computers, an operational primary and backup, will be located in Manassas, Virginia, and Phoenix. The computers — each with a 12 petaflop capacity — will be operational and ready to implement model upgrades by early 2022 after a period of code migration and testing. They will replace the existing Cray and Dell systems, “Luna” and “Mars” in Reston, Virginia, and “Surge” and “Venus” in Orlando, Florida.
Coupled with NOAA’s research and development supercomputers in West Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Colorado, which have a combined capacity of 16 petaflops, the supercomputing capacity supporting NOAA’s new operational prediction and research will be 40 petaflops.
This increase in high-performance computing will triple the capacity and double the storage and interconnect speed, allowing NOAA to unlock possibilities for better forecast model guidance through higher-resolution and more comprehensive Earth-system models, using larger ensembles, advanced physics, and improved data assimilation.
The new computers will provide operational capacity to implement research and development advancements made under NOAA’s emerging Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) to make the U.S. Global Forecast System the best model in the world.
“Through EPIC, we have an opportunity to regain our footing as a world leader in global weather prediction. NOAA is excited for the incredible opportunity ahead to partner with university and industry scientists and engineers to advance U.S. numerical weather prediction, and this supercomputer upgrade lays the foundation for that to happen,” added Jacobs.
EPIC is a joint effort across the Weather Enterprise to advance operational modeling skill by making it easier for developers across all sectors to collaborate on improving the nation’s weather and climate models. This approach leverages combined skills and resources, and lowers barriers for interaction and shared ideas through the use of cloud computing and a community modeling approach called the Unified Forecast.
“The National Weather Service ran a competitive acquisition to ensure we have the supercomputing power needed to implement all the great modeling advancements we anticipate over the next several years,” said Louis W. Uccellini, Ph.D., director of the National Weather Service. “This is an exciting time for all of us in the weather research and operations community, with bold changes on the horizon. We are making sure NOAA is ready.”
NOAA conducted a full and open competition to award the contract with CSRA LLC, a General Dynamics Information Technology company. The contract provides for an 8-year base with a 2-year optional renewal. The first task order on the contract covers products and services for the first five years, after which NOAA will work with the contractor to plan the next upgrade phase, ensuring acquisition of the best system money can buy in the marketplace that is tailored to meet the agency’s changing needs. The contract provides a total managed service approach and CSRA owns and will provide all supplies and services, including labor, facilities, and computing components.
FromThe New Mexico Political Report (Kendra Chamberlain):
The Ogallala aquifer is rapidly declining.
The large underground reservoir stretches from Wyoming and the Dakotas to New Mexico, with segments crossing key farmland in Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. It serves as the main water source for what’s known as the breadbasket of America — an area that contributes at least a fifth of the total annual agricultural harvest in the United States.
The U.S. Geological Survey began warning about the aquifer’s depletion in the 1960s, though the severity of the issue seems to have only recently hit the mainstream. Farmers in places like Kansas are now grappling with the reality of dried up wells.
In New Mexico, the situation is more dire. The portions of the aquifer in eastern New Mexico are shallower than in other agricultural zones, and the water supply is running low.
In 2016, the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources sent a team to Curry and Roosevelt counties to evaluate the lifespan of the aquifer. The news was not good. Researchers determined some areas of aquifer had just three to five years left before it would run dry given the current usage levels, potentially leaving thousands of residents and farmers without any local water source.
The news left local decision-makers in the region weighing options to balance farmland demand for irrigation and community needs for drinking water while a more permanent solution is put into place.
“There’s no policy in place to provide for that scenario,” David Landsford, who is currently mayor of Clovis and chairman of the Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority told NM Political Report.
Climate researchers and hydrogeologists agree these types of water scarcity issues will likely become more commonplace in the southwest and beyond as the climate further warms.
“Climate change, especially in the west and southwest, is already impacting us,” said Stacy Timmons, associate director of hydrogeology programs at the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, at a National Ground Water Association conference in Albuquerque.
“There’s some places where we’re seeing some pretty remarkable declines in water availability that are, in some ways, reflecting climate change,” Timmons said. “You can see, just over the last twenty years, there’s been some pretty significant drought impacts to New Mexico, specifically.”
Timmons has assembled a team to head up a new initiative to help the state better track water use, quality and scarcity. The program revolves around data: aggregating all the water data that’s collected across different sectors, government agencies and research organizations in the state. The idea is that by collecting that data in one central location and making it available to everyone, policy makers will have a better understanding not only of current water resources, but also how to shape water management policies moving forward to reflect that reality.
“There’s a huge shift globally and nationally in how we’re looking at water,” Timmons said. “Here in New Mexico, we are really on the cutting edge of actually accessing some of this technology, and we’re starting to modernize how we manage our water and our water data.”
Water Data Act
New Mexico became only the second state in the country to prioritize water data management in statute when the Legislature passed the Water Data Act in 2019. The legislation garnered support from ranchers, farmers, environmentalists and, ultimately, state lawmakers. It passed both the House and Senate unanimously.
The Water Data Act aims to develop a modern, integrated approach to collecting, sharing and using water data. The act also established a fund to accept both state funds and grants and donations to support improvements to water data collection state-wide.
“It’s a tool in the tool box that’s going to help New Mexico as a whole manage our water,” said Rep. Gail Armstrong, R-Magdalena, one of the bill’s sponsors. “If it’s all kept in one place and is readily available, that becomes a tool for management.”
The program is just now getting off the ground, Timmons said. Part of the work has been to secure additional funding to run the program effectively, after much of the budget appropriation for the initiative was stripped from the legislation in committee.
“We have $110,000 to launch this effort — which is not enough, I will say,” Timmons said, but added that her team was able to leverage that money to receive additional grants and philanthropic funds.
The program will only be as effective as its data is descriptive — and getting all the data into the same place, in the same format, is a challenge. While government agencies and departments, including the USGS, the Interstate Stream Commission, the Office of the State Engineer and the New Mexico Environment Department, all collect and manage water data, they do so in different ways.
“There’s four or five or ten different agencies that have data about one location, but right now we don’t have one unifying way to coordinate all of those data sets,” Timmons said. “Everyone has their own way of managing it.”
And the team is also identifying where there are gaps in water data collection that can be addressed in the future.
“A lot of our rural parts of the state, there’s not a whole lot of data on them,” Timmons said. “There’s huge swaths of land where there are some water resources, there are some people on private domestic wells, and we just don’t have a great deal of information to evaluate what the water resources might be in those areas, or where there’s water quality concerns.”
“There’s very little useful information in the realm of metering of how much groundwater use is happening around the state,” she added.
Her team is working to locate, extract and codify the water data sets from those groups and aggregate that data into one central online database. The team has already set up an initial web portal where anyone can browse the data that’s already been uploaded.
Informing water policy
So how will that data help decision makers?
Timmons said that by better understanding how much water is left in our aquifers, and how that water is being used, communities will be better positioned to make decisions about how to craft water policy as the resource becomes more and more scarce.
“By sharing our data, it’s going to be more easily put towards operational decisions and broader state-wide decision making,” Timmons said. “We’re working over the next several years to bring in additional data providers and start pilot studies to utilize that data.”
Back in eastern New Mexico, communities in and around Clovis, Portales, Cannon Air Force Base and Texico are now tackling how to manage what’s left of Ogallala aquifer while securing a new water source.
The Eastern New Mexico Water Utility Authority broke ground on a project that officials believe will sustain the region and its agricultural demand for water. The plan is to build a pipeline to transport water from the Ute Reservoir north of the area to the water-scarce communities in Curry and Roosevelt counties. The project includes new wells being drilled in segments of the aquifer where there’s more groundwater to help support those communities while the rest of the pipeline is built.
The $527 million project will take years to complete, but Landsford said he expects portions of the pipeline to be operational and delivering water to customers in the next five to six years.
“It’s a step plan,” Landsford said. “Connect the communities, reserve some water, and then once you have additional groundwater secured in the interim, you can supply groundwater to the customers and spend the rest of the time getting to the reservoir, where the renewable supply is located. That’s the general blueprint for where we’re going.”
That type of thinking is emblematic of what Timmons’ described as a shift towards resiliency among communities and policymakers in the face of climate change and water scarcity.
“I’m beginning to see that there’s a paradigm shift happening, and there’s reason to be optimistic about the future, despite some of the doom and gloom data that we have,” Timmons said at the conference. “There’s really a new shift happening in how we think about water, especially here in the southwest. We acknowledge that, in many places where we’re using groundwater, we’re mining the aquifer. We need to be thinking about how we can increase the flexibility of that, and increase the redundancy in where we have water resources.”
“The term ‘sustainability’ has been used — especially when thinking about groundwater — it’s really out the window now,” she said. “We’re starting to think about it more in terms of resilience.”
What’s your relationship with Colorado’s rivers? For most of us, Colorado’s snowpack thaws, flows downhill to wetlands and small streams, connects to rivers, and then flows right into your home. Colorado’s rivers influence how we live our lives every single day. They are the lifeblood of our state’s economy.
Our snowpack is largely our water supply. As of February 20th, Colorado’s statewide average snowpack is 111 percent of normal. That might sound encouraging, but water is a very local issue. According to the United States Drought Monitor, approximately 71 percent of Colorado is abnormally dry or experiencing drought. More than 504,500 Coloradans are living in drought-affected areas right now.
Although Colorado snowpack is slightly higher than normal, it is expected to replenish soil moisture before entering streams and rivers. This will have impacts on the high flows needed to support healthy rivers and riparian ecosystems across the state.
Healthy flowing rivers support critical habitat for birds and other wildlife. In Colorado, an estimated 90 percent of our state’s 800 species of birds, fish and wildlife depend upon riparian habitat, even though these areas comprise less than 2% of the state. Specifically for birds – more than 90 percent of Colorado’s bird species critically rely on riparian habitats throughout some portion of their lifecycle.
Healthy, flowing rivers are essential for our birds, other wildlife, quality of life, and economies in Colorado. Colorado’s rivers contribute billions of dollars every year to the state’s economy. However, our rivers are at risk from the impacts of climate change and our growing population.
The Colorado Water Plan is a roadmap with measurable outcomes and goals to ensure that Colorado and its environment have a more secure water future. Now is the time to dedicate additional funding toward implementing this plan.
We invite you to join us for a collaborative webinar about the importance of Colorado’s Water Plan. In this webinar you will learn about a new study commissioned by Business for Water Stewardship (BWS) that looks at the full economic impact of the state’s rivers. Molly Mugglestone with BWS will go through the study’s findings and provide updated economic data on river related recreation in all nine of Colorado’s river basins (Arkansas, Colorado, Gunnison, Metro, North Platte, Rio Grande, South Platte, Southwest and Yampa/White). In 2011 BWS commissioned a similar study which showed that $9 billion are generated every year from people recreating on or near Colorado’s rivers. This new data is expected to be higher with an even greater economic impact.
This webinar will be useful to river advocates, local leaders, and municipalities looking to make the argument that healthy rivers are critical to healthy communities, thriving economies, and that we must find ways to implement and fund the Water Plan.
This webinar is hosted by Audubon Rockies, American Rivers, Conservation Colorado, Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Water Now Alliance with support from Business for Water Stewardship and River Network.