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Louisiana Selects SGI For Storm Modeling And Visualization

Hurricane Katrina. Courtesy of AFP.
by Staff Writers
Mountain View CA (SPX) Mar 13, 2006
To enable a wide range of scientific discovery efforts, including storm surge mapping of Hurricane Katrina, Louisiana State University (LSU), in August 2005, installed a powerful combination of technology from Silicon Graphics for its Center for Computation & Technology.

Purchased through James River Technical the Silicon Graphics Prism Extreme visualization system and SGI Visual Area Networking (VAN) technology with SGI OpenGL Vizserver software will also add real-time 3D collaborative visualization to the emerging statewide 40Gb optical network called LONI (Louisiana Optical Network Initiative).

LONI, which is connected to the National LambdaRail (NLR), a nationwide optical network infrastructure, will directly link the Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system at LSU with eight Louisiana schools including Tulane and Xavier Universities, and other smaller universities. The SGI technology purchase was made possible by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system, called "Santaka," after a spicy Louisiana pepper, and SGI Vizserver technology join a 1,024-processor Linux cluster and other similar clusters in LSU's High Performance Computing group, a joint partnership between the Center for Computation & Technology (CCT) and Information Technology Services (ITS), on the main campus in Baton Rogue. When considering the advent of LONI, and the growing computational demands in many fields, especially biology, biochemistry, computational chemistry, physics, and computational fluid dynamics, LSU's Director of High Performance Computing (HPC) decided the time was right to bring in another system and architecture.

"After initially considering several other systems and the SGI Altix servers, I met with others in the research community here on campus to discuss their requirements," said Brian Ropers-Huilman, Director of HPC, LSU. "I had quotes from several vendors, we discussed it openly, and in the end there was much more interest in the Altix, in terms of it having a shared-memory system rather than distributed memory like our clusters. With the size of our datasets rapidly growing, everyone believed that having substantial shared memory would enable us to conduct more and better research in less time. People were also quite interested in the visualization and graphics capability that came with the name SGI. That took us down the Silicon Graphics Prism visualization path, which was extremely appealing."

Simulating Katrina's Storm Surge

There are a number of storm modeling groups on the LSU campus, loosely tied together under one umbrella. One of the major groups is the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes (CSPHIH), led by Dr. Ivor van Heerden, a hurricane expert frequently interviewed on CNN and other news broadcasts. Before, during, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, CSPHIH computed the ADCIRC tidal surge model on LSU's 1024-processor SuperMike Linux cluster and then viewed the data in 2D on small workstations. The group regularly provides 2D data to Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) in Baton Rouge as well as other states, when hurricanes are bearing down on the coast. With the 2006 Hurricane Season less than three months away and already expected to be about as active as 2005, the Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system is expected to improve the way data is provided to EOCs.

The Visualization, Interaction, and Digital Arts (VIDA) division of CCT took this and other simulations and observational data, and viewed them in 3D on the Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system. Underlying datasets include the MM5 atmospheric model (including temperature gradients and wind field vector data); satellite infrared time-series images; and tidal surge data. Using multi-resolution aerial photography of New Orleans, their visualization zooms into the Louisiana coast in a spectacular fly-in opening, right through the eye of the hurricane, soon followed by the tidal surge and its flooding aftermath.

"Our Katrina efforts provide both a compelling stereo fly-through, as well as a collaboratively-manipulable, fully interactive visualization of Katrina," said Dr. Brygg Ullmer, assistant professor, LSU CS + CCT, and leader of VIDA's visualization group. "Several of these datasets are large-scale simulations, seeded by actual measurements of the storm; others include data from sensors and satellites. We've transformed these into two compelling kinds of visuals. One of these is a visual flythrough, viewable in stereo with inexpensive glasses. The second is a fully interactive visualization, which allows multiple participants to collaboratively steer time and other parameters through new 'tangible' interaction devices. We're now trying to leverage that interactivity, hosting it on the Prism system so that people all over campus -- or throughout the state -- can inspect, manipulate, and dissect the anatomy and physiology of Katrina. The Silicon Graphics Prism's shared memory and VizServer software are key enabling tools toward this. We hope this can become a compelling research tool and outreach vehicle for many people across the state -- whether they're studying the weather or ecological issues, planning for the next hurricane, or just trying to better appreciate the enormity of the event."

"Hurricane Katrina's devastation has provided a significant opportunity for scientific research and simulation -- all focused on avoiding similar disasters in the future. The models needed to simulate its effects under differing conditions in real time require the processing of enormous data sets and the collaboration of researchers throughout Louisiana and the country. These collaborations, with the aid of the Louisiana Optical Network Initiative and the National Lambda Rail, are made possible with the industry-leading shared memory capabilities of the SGI Extreme Prism, and the ease of its integration into a heterogeneous distributed cluster environment, like that at LSU." Tom Mountcastle, President of James River Technical.

LSU purchased the Silicon Graphics Prism visualization system with six ATI FireGL graphics processors, 32 Intel Itanium 2 processors running Linux OS with SGI ProPack 4 for Linux, and a 10gigE interface as well as SGI OpenGL Vizserver software.

Related Links
Louisiana State University Center for Computation & Technology
Silicon Graphics

Thailand To Make Evacuation Plans After Underwater Tremors
Bangkok (AFP) Mar 13, 2006
Thailand will prepare evacuation plans for tourists and residents on the southern coast hit by the 2004 tsunami following a series of underwater tremors in the Andaman Sea, officials said Sunday.

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