Powerful Research: Using Supercomputers to Simulate Supercell Thunderstorms
September 27, 2013 - What occurs within a thunderstorm that leads to the formation of destructive weather events such as tornadoes and downbursts? Associate professor of meteorology Leigh Orf is trying to answer this question, and in the process, is gaining national recognition for his expertise in using supercomputer modeling and simulation to study atmospheric disturbances such as supercell thunderstorms.
Supercells are the most powerful, long-lived thunderstorms. They exhibit a rotating updraft, and they are responsible for nature's mightiest twisters.
The National Institute for Computational Sciences (NICS) recently published "Simulating Supercell Thunderstorms," covering Orf's storm simulation studies and ongoing research, the objective of which is to capture the entire life cycle of a supercell thunderstorm that produces a strong, long-lived tornado.
Along with colleagues Bob Wilhelmson of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois and Matthew Gilmore, associate professor of atmospheric science at the University of North Dakota, Orf recently ran supercell simulations on the Blue Waters supercomputer located at NCSA and rendered them on a system housed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
These simulations – still being analyzed – are guiding the research team in designing new simulations to be run at the Texas Advanced Computing Center, all of which are resources of the National Science Foundation's Extreme Science and Discovery Environment (XSEDE) – the most advanced, powerful and robust collection of integrated digital resources and services in the world.
"With enough simulations, we hope to have a spectrum of storms to investigate, from storms that produce the weakest tornadoes, to those that produce the most devastating, in addition to storms that do not produce tornadoes at all," Orf explains.
Recent similar research – published in the latest edition of NCSA's Access magazine – that Orf is conducting along with Wilhelmson and Eric Savory of the University of Western Ontario has them using the Kraken supercomputer at NICS to create storm simulations in environments known to be conducive to creating downbursts.
Downbursts are created by a column of sinking air that, after hitting ground level, spreads out in all directions and are capable of producing damaging straight-line winds in the range of 80-150 mph. Occurring 10 times more often than tornadoes, they produce a debris pattern in parallel straight lines, which distinguishes them from tornadoes, which leave a rotational damage pattern.
Orf and Savory are exploring the specific stresses that downbursts present to structures, such as power transmission lines, and their simulations are producing a more physically realistic wind field not found in simpler models.
They are hoping that advances in supercomputing power will bring them closer to answers that will ultimately help meteorologists issue better short-term forecasts and more accurate, timely, and targeted warnings for these types of storms.
Chappaz investigates molybdenum as one of the two key trace elements for the development of life
September 11, 2013 - The Goldschmidt Conference, the world's largest geochemistry conference, recently met in Florence, Italy from August 25-30, where thousands of geoscientists presented their latest research. One of them, Dr. Steven Benner from the Westheimer Institute of Science and Technology in Gainesville, Fla., attracted a lot of attention.
He presented a new hypothesis that life in the solar system may have begun on Mars billions of years ago. Benner's theory is based upon results that suggest minerals containing the elements boron and molybdenum are key in assembling atoms into life-forming molecules. Molybdenum is a unique trace metal, since it is required for nitrogen assimilation for all life forms on Earth.
Dr. Anthony Chappaz, assistant professor of geochemistry within Central Michigan University's Institute for Great Lakes Research and the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, is a recognized expert on molybdenum geochemistry. Along with colleagues from the University of Copenhagen and Princeton University, he also presented some new research results on how molybdenum can be used to reconstruct the rise of oxygen concentration in the ancient ocean.
This month a new postdoctoral researcher is joining Chappaz's research group in the GEM Lab to investigate molybdenum geochemistry under low oxygen conditions. In light of Dr. Benner's recent presentation at the Goldschmidt Conference, this project - funded by the National Science Foundation - could bring new insights into how life may have started.
CMU senior Rebecca Jones participating in Misasa International Student Internship Program in Japan
July 16, 2013 - CMU senior and geology major Rebecca Jones from Lake Orion, Mich. is spending six weeks in Misasa, Japan after earning a coveted spot in Pheasant Memorial Laboratory's International Student Internship Program.
Along with other students from around the world - including India, Germany, Canada, Colombia, Brazil and England - Rebecca is currently running a geochemical analysis of the Chelyabinsk meteorite that fell from the sky on February 15, 2013 in Russia. She is conducting multiple tests on the samples, hoping to discover new data that will provide information and improve our understanding of the origin and evolution of terrestrial bodies.
Only five students are selected to participate in PML's Misasa International Student Internship Program (MISIP) each year. The program is open to juniors, seniors and masters-level students who are studying Earth sciences, physics, chemistry and/or materials sciences and who have a strong interest in pursuing a career in scientific research. During the program, students work in state-of-the-art research facilities and gain first-hand research experience. Program participants reside in a guesthouse and have their travel and living expenses fully covered. At the end of the program, each participant presents results of their research findings in a talk.
PML MISIP is jointly sponsored by the Institute for Study of the Earth's Interior at Okayama University and the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology in Japan.
Undergraduate wins best student presentation award at Geological Society of America meeting
June 3, 2013 - CMU senior Leah Cooperrider, an Earth Sciences major and geography education minor, was recently recognized with a Best Paper award for her oral presentation that she delivered at the 47th annual meeting of The Geological Society of America's North-Central Section in Kalamazoo, Mich. on May 2-3. Her talk was titled, "Reflections from an undergraduate preservice Earth science teacher."
According to CMU assistant professor of geography, Anthony Feig, Leah did an excellent job sparking a lively and lengthy discussion with conference attendees about the state of Earth science teacher education in Michigan.
Established in 1888, The Geological Society of America (GSA) is a global, professional society with a growing membership of more than 25,000 people in 107 countries - uniting earth scientists from every corner of the globe in a common purpose to study the mysteries of our planet and share scientific findings. The society aims to advance geoscience research and discovery, service to society, stewardship of the Earth and the geosciences profession.