March 2008
Urgent Computing: Exploring Supercomputing's New Role
Paul Tooby
Dong Ju Choi
Nancy Wilkins-Diehr, San Diego Supercomputer Center


In addition to supporting important research now, this system will serve as a model to develop on-demand capabilities on additional TeraGrid systems in the future. TeraGrid is an NSF-funded large-scale production grid linking some of the nation’s largest supercomputer centers for open scientific research including SDSC.

Urgent applications that will make use of OnDemand range from making movies of Southern California earthquakes to systems that will help give near real-time warnings based on predicting the path of a tornado or hurricane, or foretell the most likely direction of a toxic plume released by an industrial accident or terrorist incident.

When an earthquake greater than magnitude 3.5 strikes Southern California, typically once or twice a month, Tromp’s simulation code needs to use 144 processors of the OnDemand system for about 28 minutes. Shortly after the earthquake strikes a job is automatically submitted and immediately allowed to run. The code launches and any “normal” jobs running at the time are interrupted to make way for the on-demand job.

SDSC computational expert Dong Ju Choi worked extensively with Tromp to ensure that the simulation code will run efficiently in on-demand mode on the new system.

“SDSC’s new OnDemand system is an important step forward for our event-driven earthquake science,” said Tromp. “We’re getting very good performance that will let us cut the time to deliver earthquake movies from about 45 to 30 minutes or less, and every minute is important.”

The movies that result from the computations are made available as part of the ShakeMovie project in Caltech's Near Real-Time Simulation of Southern California Seismic Events Portal 4. But behind the scenes of these dramatic earthquake movies, a great deal of coordinated activity is rapidly taking place in a complex, automated workflow.

The system springs to life every time an earthquake occurs in Southern California. When an event takes place, thousands of seismograms, or ground motion measurements, are recorded at hundreds of stations across the region, and the earthquake’s epicenter, or location, as well as its depth and intensity are determined.

The waiting ShakeMovie system at Caltech collects these seismic recordings automatically over the Internet. Then, for events greater than magnitude 3.5, to fill in the gaps between the actual ground motion recorded at specific locations in the region, the scientists use the recorded data to guide a computer model that creates a “virtual earthquake,” giving an overall view of the ground motion throughout the region.

The animations rely on the SPECFEM3D_BASIN software, which simulates seismic wave propagation in sedimentary basins. The software computes the motion of the earth in 3-D based on the actual earthquake recordings and what is known about the subsurface structure of the region, which greatly affects the wave motion -- bending, speeding or slowing, and reflecting energy in complex ways.

After the full 3-D wave simulation is run on the OnDemand system at SDSC and a system at Caltech for redundancy, data that captures the surface motion (displacement, velocity, and acceleration) are collected and mapped onto the topography of Southern California, and rendered into movies. The movies are then automatically published via the portal, and an email is sent to subscribers, including the news media and the public.

Figure 2

Figure 2. OnDemand cluster at SDSC.

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Reference this article
Tooby, P., Ju Choi, D., Wilkins-Diehr, N. "Supercomputing On Demand: SDSC Supports Event-Driven Science," CTWatch Quarterly, Volume 4, Number 1, March 2008. http://www.ctwatch.org/quarterly/articles/2008/03/supercomputing-on-demand-sdsc-supports-event-driven-science/

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