Construction to Start on NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center

diagram showing computer model of Earth's climate system
A single month from a simulation of the 20th century
by the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model.
Gary Strand / NCAR

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and its managing organization, the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), has broken ground on the construction of a supercomputing center. The new center will house one of the world’s fastest supercomputers for scientific research.

Located in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the NCAR-Wyoming Supercomputing Center (NWSC) will provide advanced computing services to scientists across the nation in a broad range of disciplines, including weather, climate, oceanography, air pollution, space weather, computational science, energy production, and carbon sequestration. It will also house a premier data storage and archival facility that will hold, among other scientific data, unique historical climate records.

The center is a partnership among NCAR, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the University of Wyoming (UW), the state of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, the Wyoming Business Council, and Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power.

“Supercomputing is one of the great scientific tools of today and the future, supporting ever more complete models of Earth and its atmosphere that enable us to understand and predict weather, climate, and many other environmental phenomena for the benefit of society,” says Richard Anthes, president of UCAR. “We are excited by this expansion of research capabilities for our university community and the new academic and scientific collaborations this center will enable.”

Anthes adds that the partnerships formed around the new supercomputing center have strengthened ties and research capabilities across the Front Range of Colorado and Wyoming.

“We are delighted that construction on the supercomputing center in Cheyenne is moving forward. The partnership with NSF, UCAR, and NCAR allows Wyoming to develop its technology portfolio,” says Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal. “The research capabilities it will allow UW will be of great benefit to the state.”

Advancing Research

Scientists rely on advanced computing to understand complex processes in the atmosphere and across the Earth system. NCAR, whose headquarters will continue to be in Boulder, has housed supercomputers in its Mesa Laboratory in southwest Boulder for decades, but needs a new purpose-built facility for the increasingly powerful machines. Approximately 20 technical and support staff are expected to be on site at the NWSC at any given time. Most researchers will interact with the center remotely, via the Internet.

Scientists will use the supercomputing center to accelerate research into climate change, severe weather, the Sun, and other critical topics. Having advanced computing capabilities can help scientists answer such important questions as:

  • How will climate change in coming decades affect agriculture, water resources, energy use and production, and extreme events, including hurricanes?
  • Will sea level continue to rise and at what rate?
  • Where are the most damaging winds likely to occur in tornadoes, hurricanes, and other storms, and how can they be better forecast?
  • What are the forces on the Sun that spawn massive solar storms, and how can society better anticipate these disruptive events that affect sensitive telecommunications and power systems on Earth?
  • How can we best use observations from satellites and other systems to improve weather forecasts?

In addition, the supercomputers may be used for research into earthquakes, turbulence, hydrological and biological processes, carbon sequestration, aviation safety, and wildfire simulations.

“After extensive planning and preparation, it’s gratifying to see the pieces coming together for construction,” University of Wyoming President Tom Buchanan says. “I look forward to the supercomputing center coming online because it’s so important to the research we’re doing.”

Buchanan says that the university’s primary use for the supercomputing facility will be to model flow in porous media, in order to understand on a large scale how water and carbon dioxide move through the spaces that exist in rocks. This research is critical to the university’s work in carbon sequestration–the development of methods to keep carbon dioxide from fossil fuels out of the atmosphere.