Scientists have been able to run some of their work on larger systems at other facilities, but they are competing for time with other sciences.
Among the scientists who will be using the NCAR system, is Marika Holland, whose research work includes studying climate change in the polar region. The earlier systems are running models at "more of an approximation than we would like," she said.
Similar to understanding precipitation in temperate regions, Holland said the higher resolutions enabled by this new system will allow them to look explicitly at the influence of storms on arctic sea ice, as well as ice reductions along the coast and coastal erosion.
The arctic sea ice set a new minimum this year, 300,000 square miles less than the previous satellite record in Sept., 2007, of 1.61 million square miles, according to NASA last month.
The loss of sea ice covering during the summer, as well as over the last several years, "has been pretty extreme and more extreme than most of our climate models predict," said Holland.
The work accomplished by scientists through observation, theoretical studies and other scientific efforts builds knowledge that is incorporated into computer models, which then become better predictive tools, said Holland.
There is a lot of understanding and fundamental research that needs to go on, said Holland, "but we also need bigger computers."
Patrick Thibodeau covers cloud computing and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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