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Home > iSGTW 10 December 2008 > iSGTW Feature - AMSTAR

Feature - Massive new digital storage library for atmospheric research

 The Nested Regional Climate Model is an initiative of the NCAR in collaboration with university, government and private-industry colleagues.

With added support the NRCM will be able to simulate a variety of 21st-century climates, from which statistical portraits of the future atmosphere can be produced. The simulations can give a better idea of how and where weather patterns are likely to shift from decade to decade and how specific high-impact weather events, such as hurricanes, may change in frequency, intensity, size and rainfall.

Images courtesy of UCAR;NASA-GSFC, NOAA GOES

The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) recently installed a massive new digital storage library planned to hold nearly 30 petabytes of data— the equivalent of more than 6 million DVDs. The new system, AMSTAR (Augmentation of the Mass Storage Tape Archive Resources), will be one of the largest archives in the world dedicated to geoscience research, and will store climate simulation data, weather models and irreplaceable historical climate records from around the world.

“Improving the accuracy of potential changes in local climates, such as over the Rocky Mountains, will depend upon substantial increases in model resolution.  As such, the amount of data generated by the climate change models will dramatically increase.  Without corresponding increases in archival space, as with the AMSTAR procurement, we will be unable to adequately analyze this data over the next four years,” said Jim Hurrell, NCAR Senior Scientist.

Less than six years after crossing the one-petabyte mark, AMSTAR’s predecessor at NCAR reached its capacity of six petabytes. In the past year, the geoscience research archive at NCAR has quadrupled, and is amassing more than 200 terabytes per month, said Tom Bettge, Director of Operations and Services at NCAR’s Computational and Information Systems Laboratory. In order to accommodate this growth, duplicate data is currently being moved out of the system onto external mount racks.

Until recently scientists have used separate computer models to simulate the atmosphere, ocean circulation and solar activity.  Each model by itself can produce terabytes of data. Scientists are now coupling the models—which typically increases the data output—to study how the systems interact. 

Tape robot.
Image courtesy of NCAR


In addition, they are developing and using models capable of dramatically increasing the resolution of the study target—and consequently, the quantity of data to be stored for analysis. Instead of modeling grid squares of 30 km on each side, for example, a researcher can now examine areas a tenth to a hundredth that size to view climate effects at a more local level.

Once AMSTAR is fully installed and operational, its 100 tape drives and nearly 30,000 1-TB tape cartridges will increase the center’s capacity by five-fold. The first two libraries of AMSTAR’s modular system have been assembled and tested and will become operational this month. A third library is planned for installation in 2010.

More than 1,000 scientists around the world currently use NCAR’s mass storage system. “These scientists generate huge amounts of data, and the data they generate in the next year alone will approach the amount of data they generated in the last four years,” Bettge said. “They’re going to need a secure and reliable archive to hold the data while they analyze the model results.”

Amelia Williamson, for iSGTW


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