Archive for the ‘Climate’ Category

The median deviation of simulated 2012 county-level yields from linear trend as a percentage of county-specific trend yields from 1979 to 2011. Image courtesy Joshua Elliot.

The median deviation of simulated 2012 county-level yields from linear trend as a percentage of county-specific trend yields from 1979 to 2011. Image courtesy Joshua Elliot.

[This article ran originally at International Science Grid This Week. Reprinted with permission.]

In 2012, the United States suffered its worst agricultural drought in 24 years. Farmland across the country experienced a devastating combination of high temperatures and low precipitation, leading to the worst harvest yields in nearly two decades. At its peak, nearly two-thirds of the country experienced drought conditions according to the US Drought Monitor. Worse still, instead of an anomalous year of bad weather, 2012 may have provided an alarming preview of how climate change will impact the future of agriculture.

These warning signs make 2012 an ideal year for validating crop yield and climate impact models that simulate the effects of climate on agriculture. Current climate change models predict that global temperatures could rise several degrees over the next century, making hotter growing seasons the new norm and truly extreme seasons (like 2012) more commonplace.

“A world four degrees warmer than it is now is not a world that we’ve ever seen before,” says Joshua Elliott, a fellow at the Computation Institute and the Center for Robust Decision-Making on Climate and Energy Policy. “Studying years like 2012 in detail can potentially be very useful for helping us understand whether our models can hope to accurately capture the future.”


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A few weeks ago, we urged readers to vote in the Bloomberg Mayors Challenge for the City of Chicago’s entry, a collaboration with the Urban Center for Computation and Data called the SmartData Platform. This week, the project received good news as it was chosen for a $1 million grant from Bloomberg Philanthropies to launch the project, one of five proposals to receive funding from the original pool of 305 applications. The SmartData platform will put city datasets — like those that can found on the city’s data portal — to work in making the city run more effectively and efficiently, and the UrbanCCD will help provide the computational expertise and tools to extract the maximum potential from the data. The new open-source platform is considered the next iteration of the WindyGrid system currently used internally by the city, which was discussed by Chicago’s Chief Data Officer Brett Goldstein at the recent Urban Sciences Research Coordination Network workshop.

Chicago and the other Bloomberg winners were covered by the New York Times, the Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, NBC Chicago, ABC Chicago, The Atlantic Cities,


The security at Argonne National Laboratory will be even tighter than usual today as President Barack Obama visits to deliver a speech on the subjects of energy and climate change. The Presidential visit comes just months after the announcement of the Argonne “Battery Hub,” a $155 million project that’s part of the national Joint Center for Energy Storage Research. But President Obama’s speech will also come at a time where national laboratories such as Argonne face budget cuts due to the federal sequestration.  If you want to see what the President says about these pressing topics, tune into White House Live at 1:30 p.m. Central time.


Next month will feature a lot of exciting CI-affiliated events. On April 3rd, Senior Fellow Gregory Voth will deliver a lunchtime talk in downtown Chicago on “Molecular Modeling: A Window to the Biochemical World” (register here). The 2013 edition of the GlobusWorld meeting runs from April 16-18 at Argonne, and registration for the conference and hotel rooms is currently open. Finally, the Computation Institute will host the inaugural Day of the Beagle symposium on April 23rd, celebrating the groundbreaking biology and medicine research performed on the Beagle supercomputer in its first year of operation.

The first supercomputer in the country of Jordan was built with somewhat unusual components: the processors from Playstation 3 video game consoles. As the article discusses, it follows a US Air Force supercomputer in using video game parts for high-performance computing.

Two visions of the future of computing received attention in recent weeks. A special issue of Science put the spotlight on quantum computing and recent experiments that move it closer to real-world application, and a feature on the new Nova Next website speculated on how synthetic biology could someday create computers made up of biological components.

“The Internet of Things” is catching on as a tech/computing buzzword, and in this video for the business news site Quartz, Robert Mawrey of ioBridge uses a fresh cup of coffee to explain why might soon want our appliances to send and receive tweets.

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Bonanza Creek

Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, where Fan and colleagues calibrated their high-latitude peatlands model.

Climate change is not an equal opportunity threat. Certain areas of the world are more susceptible than others to the shifts in temperature, precipitation and other effects climate scientists predict to occur over the next century. Even when these vulnerable regions are remote and rarely visited by humans, how climate change affects these ecosystems could have dramatic consequences for the global population.

One such area of vulnerability is the high-latitude peatlands, the bogs, fens and boreal forests found in the northern parts of Canada, Alaska and Russia. Much of this frigid land carries a layer of permafrost year-round, but the vegetation and soil there accounts for the majority of Earth’s biomass and carbon storage – roughly double that of the much better known tropical forests. Climate change is also expected to be particularly dramatic in these areas, with some models predicting temperatures will increase by as much as 7.5 degrees Celsius over the next hundred years.

Because of this vulnerability, Argonne computer scientist Zhaosheng Fan is focusing his attention specifically on how climate will affect this unique ecosystem. In his talk at the Computation Institute on February 14th, Fan (Assistant Biogeochemical Modeler in the Biosciences Division at ANL) described how scientists created a model of these high-latitude peatlands, how they refined the model based on field experiments and the very serious warnings the model produced about how these remote areas might someday affect the rest of the world.


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