Our Interconnected Planet: The University of Alaska Fairbanks Tackles The Unsettling Subject of Turbulence

Our Interconnected Planet, Uncategorized

I have long been convinced that our mutually bumpy airplane rides, all caused by turbulence, is simply getting worse. And I’m not the only one who thinks we are white knuckling it a whole lot more often these days. That is why I so appreciate the work being done by Dr. David Newman, Professor of Physics Department and part of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is leading research on Modeling and Understanding Turbulence and Turbulent Transport, which is music to my ears. If travelers such as myself have to keep reaching for air sickness bags, we would sure like to more about know why.

According to a study by Paul Williams  an atmospheric scientist who conducted a 2013 study, and duly reported by the Huffington Post, it is going to take years of research before turbulence can be definitively linked to something like global warming. In fact, he argues that while turbulence seems to be increasing in frequency right now, the likely culprit is actually social media because so many travelers are taking videos of turbulence and sharing.

I would say, tell this to my lurching stomach, but I digress. The work being done by Dr. Newman is tackling head-on one of computational science’s thorniest problems. In fact, he has developed a brand new High Performance Computing technique for solving turbulence problems called the ‘Parareal’ method, a method gaining popularity and use. Meanwhile, the main thrust of his research is to characterize the nature of, and quantify the mechanisms behind, turbulent transport. Much of the funding for this work comes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Fusion Energy for modeling and understanding turbulence in the confined plasmas needed to make fusion work as an energy source on Earth. However, much of the research is also directly applicable to Earth’s geophysical systems such as the oceans and the atmosphere. Dr. Newman says the research would not be possible without access to HPC. Insights gained from this research should thus be applicable beyond the plasma fusion context (for example, in ozone transport across atmospheric jets in the polar regions of earth). So, not only will the research help benefit an alternative energy source, fusion, but perhaps ultimately help to figure out why so many of us cannot get on a plane without feeling like we have just been strapped in for a six-hour roller coaster ride.

Again, none of this would be possible without HPC. To recap, back in January 2017, with support from the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust, the Geophysical Institute, UAF vice chancellor of research, UAF International Arctic Research Center, and UAF IDeA Network of Biomedical Research Excellence, the Geophysical Institute’s Research Computing Systems engineers deployed Mellanox InfiniBand solutions across multiple racks to form their HPC system. The cluster, named Chinook, was made possible by a partnership between UAF and the Murdock Charitable Trust (http://murdocktrust.org/).

Figure A.1 The right panel shows turbulence in a shear flow while the left panel shows the same turbulence without a sheared flow. A shear is a change in the right to left velocity of the fluid shown in these figures. A sheared flow leads to a reduction in cross flow scale lengths and therefore a reduction in cross flow transport. This is an important topic for transport of many constituent quantities such as pollution, salinity, nutrients, temperature etc.


With research on-going at UAF’s Geophysical Institute in disciplines ranging from space physics and aeronomy; atmospheric sciences; snow, ice, and permafrost; seismology; volcanology; and remote sensing to tectonics and sedimentation, HPC is making a difference in advancing our understanding of how our Interconnected Planet works.

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About Gilad Shainer

Gilad Shainer has served as Mellanox's Vice President of Marketing since March 2013. Previously, he was Mellanox's Vice President of Marketing Development from March 2012 to March 2013. Gilad joined Mellanox in 2001 as a design engineer and later served in senior marketing management roles between July 2005 and February 2012. He holds several patents in the field of high-speed networking and contributed to the PCI-SIG PCI-X and PCIe specifications. Gilad holds a MSc degree (2001, Cum Laude) and a BSc degree (1998, Cum Laude) in Electrical Engineering from the Technion Institute of Technology in Israel.

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