THE world faces an array of daunting environmental and energy challenges that are not going away any time soon. Nuclear materials continue to pile up worldwide, posing national security and environmental threats. Some nuclear materials already released to the environment are continuing to spread. Greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere may threaten the environment and the world economy. The adequacy, security, and reliability of energy sources for personal and industrial needs are uncertain.|
These knotty issues are too large for any one institution or government to solve. But environmental scientists at Livermore are giving it their best shot, using their long-standing expertise in computer simulation to find new and better ways to address them. Simulations are ideal not only for visualizing a problem as a whole but also for examining the profusion of details.
Computer modeling has been an integral part of the work of the Laboratory's environmental programs from their beginning. Codes we have developed over the years for analyzing groundwater flow, seismic signals, geochemical processes, and activity in the atmosphere and oceans-such as NUFT, PARFLOW, E3D, SAC, EQ 3/6, IMPACT, and APDIC/LODI-are in wide use by academia, industry, and other national laboratories. Today, Livermore is among the few institutions in the world that can couple scientific expertise and laboratory and field measurements with sophisticated software engineering and high-performance computing techniques to produce state-of-the-art scientific simulations.
The Accelerated Strategic Computing Initiative (ASCI) has brought the largest computers in the world to bear on classified research at Livermore. Since ASCI began, our environmental programs have developed partnerships with the Computation Directorate and made the financial investment necessary to bring big computers to environmental research, too. When the Livermore Compaq Teracenter and the Visualization Theater were developed to display the vast quantities of data produced by the ASCI computers, four of the first six projects to use them were environmental simulations.
The article entitled Cutting-Edge Environmental Modeling focuses on several projects using this expanded computational capability. Research on groundwater contamination, seismic waves, atmospheric emergencies, and climate modeling is benefiting from the increased realism that terascale computing brings to environmental simulations.
Where do we go from here? Computers will certainly become more powerful. Over a decade ago, Moore's law predicted a doubling of computing capacity every 18 to 24 months. Recent advances in terascale computing are far surpassing that prediction. In a few years, simulations of dynamic, large-scale environmental systems will grow to a level of sophistication barely imaginable now.
Wireless communications and sensing devices for recording environmental data are evolving, too-almost as fast as computers-becoming smaller and cheaper and easier to use. Sensors feeding real-time data to advanced simulation models will not just monitor environmental processes; instead, an accumulation of real and simulated data over time may allow scientists to predict the unusual.
These technologies are key elements of the Virtual Valley project that Livermore is developing with the forthcoming University of California campus at Merced. In the not too distant future, sensors all over the Central Valley and the nearby Sierra Nevada mountain range, an area of about 155,000 square kilometers (38 million acres), will begin feeding environmental data to a huge, ongoing simulation of a rapidly developing part of California.
While we cannot solve the world's environmental problems alone, Livermore continues to be a leader in tackling the toughest challenges with the best and most advanced scientific and computational tools.