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New super-computer for climate science ranks among world’s top 400


The new high-performance computer at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research ranks among the 400 fastest world-wide. This was announced today at the beginning of the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. The machine is able to do 212 trillion calculations per second – so called Teraflops. This allows simulations of the complex interactions between atmosphere, oceans, land and ice-sheets to a much larger extent than was hitherto possible on site. The computer’s waste heat is used – environmentally-friendly – to heat the new PIK research building.

“The new computer is to us what a research vessel is to other institutes – it allows us to explore the seas of the unknown, only that our oceans consist of data and equations,” says PIK director John Schellnhuber.

The computer’s waste heat is used to heat the new PIK research building. (Photo: PIK)

“We’re calculating changes in our Earth system: from past ice-ages to the impacts of human-made climate change on weather extremes, crop yields, or sea levels.” The new high-performance computer offers new possibilities to do this since it allows 6 to 9 times more simulation runs – like experiments in a laboratory, but with data.

The European Union financed 3 of the 4.4 million euro that the computer cost. In a Europe-wide tender, the company IBM came up with the best quality. “We really appreciate that our funders are recognizing the particular research challenge posed by climate change – so we could invest to get an ever clearer picture of the risks for people all over the world,” says Schellnhuber.

Innovative cooling system: Waste heat is used to heat buildings

Because computers inevitably produce heat when working, the manufacturer developed a highly innovative cooling system which pumps liquids directly to the currently installed 5088 processor kernels. The waste heat is used to heat the new research building of PIK with more than 200 working places to be occupied in a few weeks, and some neighbouring facilities. No additional heat sources are needed.

“The new high-performance computer is intricately tailored to fit our needs to develop climate and economic models – from the computing power and data transfer speed to the software,” says Karsten Kramer, head of IT at PIK with more than 20 years of experience in high-performance computing. The new system perfectly complements but doesn’t substitute existing computing resources in Germany, he stresses. The computer as well as the data centre are designed to allow further appropriate upscaling without performance interruptions.

“To substitute the computing power of the newly installed device, each person on Earth would have to do almost 30,000 calculations per second – this illustrates that we need this cutting-edge technology,” says Kramer. “Conversely, without the ideas of our scientists even the fastest computer would be useless.”

Weblink to Top 500 list:

Media contact:
PIK press office
Phone: +49 331 288 25 07
Twitter: @PIK_Climate

Jonas Viering | Potsdam-Institut für Klimafolgenforschung
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