Scientists Race to Simulate Earthquakes

The rush to build more-powerful supercomputers is part of a larger race to solve some of mankind's biggest problems. One person on the front line of that effort is Thomas Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center.

"We are very concerned about the current state of the faults in Southern California," said Jordan, who described the San Andreas fault as "locked and loaded and ready to roll" with a sizable earthquake.

Using a supercomputer called Jaguar at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Jordan's team has been running simulations of how an earthquake might affect Southern California. Running at 1.75 petaflops, Jaguar is the world's second-fastest supercomputer.

But now Jordan is preparing his applications to run on Blue Waters, a 10-petaflop system that's being built by IBM for use late next year at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

An application with a runtime of 4,000 hours per processor on Jaguar could be completed in just 770 hours on Blue Waters, Jordan said at the SC10 supercomputing conference in New Orleans last month.

There is urgency to Jordan's need for more computing power: Experts estimate that there's a 99% chance of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake during the next 30 years in California.

It could be years before that happens, said Jordan, but "I can tell you, all the seismologists are very nervous."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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