Climate Change and Global Health: What NCI is Doing to Help

Our Interconnected Planet

Climate change is poised to become what the prestigious British medical publication The Lancet has called “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” The health risks associated with climate change are numerous and alarming. Just to name a few: increases in heat-related illnesses and death; extreme weather-related injuries and mortality; aggravated chronic illnesses; spread of infectious diseases; increases in asthma and respiratory allergies, and upsurge in chronic respiratory disorders; rising malnutrition and child development complications; increases in stress-related and mental health disorders…the list goes on and on. In addition, there are tangible impacts related to both population displacement and migration; as well as climate-triggered instability (famine) and subsequent conflict. The healthcare sector is just beginning to understand that climate change will have major impacts on health care costs, services and delivery. The World Health Organization has estimated some of impact of climate change to be:

  • Between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year, from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.
  • The direct damage costs to health (i.e. excluding costs in health-determining sectors such as agriculture and water and sanitation), is estimated to be between US$ 2-4 billion/year by 2030.
  • Areas with weak health infrastructure – mostly in developing countries – will be the least able to cope without assistance to prepare and respond.
  • Reducing emissions of greenhouse gases through better transport, food and energy-use choices can result in improved health, particularly through reduced air pollution.

This is why climate change and tracking the climate has such far-reaching implications. Last quarter, I wrote about the growing impact of global warming on The Great Barrier Reef and coral bleaching and the ground-breaking research being done at the Australia’s National Computational Institute. Now, I’d like to highlight the important work they are doing in climate modeling.

ACCESS is Australia’s national earth system science and climate modelling suite, a complex coupled-system model that comprises atmosphere, ocean, sea-ice, land, and other components — derived from the best of the UK, USA, France, and Australia to provide national weather and climate prediction capability. The model’s complexity comes from the vast span of time scales over which it has to work: from hours for extreme weather events (storms and bushfires), days for general weather prediction, months for seasonal prediction, decades for planning for environmental change, through to centuries and millennia for long-term climate change.

ACCESS is developed through a collaboration of the Bureau of Meteorology, CSIRO, the academic community through the ARC Centre of Excellence in Climate System Science, and NCI.

A flooded road with depth indications in Queensland, Australia.

NCI’s role is mission critical, not only as the collaborative, integrated development platform, but also through its unique expertise in optimizing the performance of key model components. Performance improvements of 30-40 percent and much higher code scalability (up to 20-fold improvements with some codes now exploiting up to 20,000 cores), are enabling greater operational efficiency and productivity with faster time to results, more accurate simulations that enable new scientific outcomes and insight, and much heightened prediction capability.

In real terms, the outcomes are wide-ranging and include multi-billion dollar benefits for agriculture through more accurate seasonal prediction, the reduction of severe economic losses and the mitigation of dangers to public safety and health from extreme weather events.

As part of this, NCI is using Mellanox’s interconnect solutions allow for faster inter-node connectivity and access to storage, providing Australian researchers and scientific research organizations with critical on-demand access to NCI’s high-performance cloud. This cloud facilitates scientific workloads with a deployment that combines the Mellanox CloudX solution with OpenStack software to support high performance workloads on a scalable and easy to manage cloud platform. CloudX simplifies and automates the orchestration of cloud platforms and reduces deployment time from days to hours. The NCI deployment is based on Mellanox 40/56 Gb/s Virtual Protocol Interconnect adapters and switches supporting both InfiniBand and Ethernet. NCI also has Mellanox’s 100Gbit/s EDR InfiniBand interconnect for its new Lenovo NextScale supercomputer. This powerful combination of storage and compute power enable NCI to deliver extremely complex simulations and more accurate predictions, all with the aim of improving the human condition.

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About Scot Schultz

Scot Schultz is a HPC technology specialist with broad knowledge in operating systems, high speed interconnects and processor technologies. Joining the Mellanox team in March 2013 as Director of HPC and Technical Computing, Schultz is a 25-year veteran of the computing industry. Prior to joining Mellanox, he spent the past 17 years at AMD in various engineering and leadership roles, most recently in strategic HPC technology ecosystem enablement. Scot was also instrumental with the growth and development of the Open Fabrics Alliance as co-chair of the board of directors. Scot currently maintains his role as Director of Educational Outreach, founding member of the HPC Advisory Council and of various other industry organizations. Follow him on Twitter: @ScotSchultz

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