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Grid Spans the Globe

Three universities are banding together to form a "Polar Grid" to study the effects of global warming in real time.

The effort, funded by a $1.96 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will be led by Geoffrey Fox, director of the Community Grids Lab at Indiana University, joined by partners from Elizabeth City State University and the University of Kansas Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets.

The team will create a computer grid spanning from the North to the South poles, composed of rugged laptops and clusters deployed in the field in the polar regions and two large-scale clusters for detailed data analysis in the U.S., 17 teraflops at IU and 5 TFLOPS at Elizabeth City. The clusters will be made highly accessible through a science gateway, using Web 2.0 and portal approaches designed to make high-performance computers easier to use.

The result will be instant analysis of changes in the polar ice sheets, say the scientists.

"The Polar Grid project will transform U.S. capabilities in ice sheet research," Fox said in a statement. "With this technology, it will be possible to collect, examine and analyze data — and then use the results of such analysis to optimize data collection strategies — all during the course of a single expedition. This will help scientists more quickly gain understanding about the potential impact of rising sea levels and how they relate to global climate change, a problem of urgent importance."

Under current methods, expeditions take place during the summer months, data is brought back to the U.S. for analysis, and a new expedition takes place the following year.

The project will also boost compute power at Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university in North Carolina.

"This will give ECSU a top-ranked 5 teraflop high-performance computing system ... that will enable crucial ice-sheet science and educate a diverse workforce in both polar science and cyberinfrastructure," said Linda Hayden, co-principal investigator from Elizabeth City State University.

Faculty and student researchers will participate in field data collection and implementation of a base camp 64-core cluster, allowing near real-time analysis of radar data by the polar field teams. Students trained and educated on Polar Grid also will participate in internships.

Indiana University is one of about a dozen partners that provide hardware resources for the NSF-funded TeraGrid, a national-scale NSF cyberinfrastructure facility. IU will leverage its involvement in the TeraGrid to support the Polar Grid project.

The Polar Grid research team started initial planning earlier this month, and they hope to begin equipment installation in late fall.

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