Hardware Acceleration of Simulations of Extreme Weather Events

Lead Research Organisation: University of Glasgow
Department Name: School of Computing Science


This is a proposal for a two-month research visit to the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of the University of Kyoto in Japan, to work with Prof. Tetsuya Takemi of the Atmospheric and Hydrospheric Disasters Division on hardware acceleration of simulations of extreme weather events. Hardware acceleration means the use of special hardware -- in our case General-Purpose Graphics Processing Units (GPGPUs) and Field-Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) to speed up a computational task.
In particular, our aim is to reduce the simulation times for models using the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model, the leading next-generation model for weather and climate simulations. This will allow the models to be run at higher precision, which is essential in the prediction of extreme weather events.
The main purpose of this research visit is to lay the groundwork for a long-term collaboration including research groups in Japan and the UK, with the aim of accelerating the full Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model and adding support for FPGA acceleration.

Planned Impact

The main purpose of this research visit is to lay the groundwork for a long-term collaboration including research groups in Japan and the UK, with the aim of accelerating the full Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) model and adding support for FPGA acceleration. We describe here the potential impact of the aims of this long-term collaboration.

* Impact of Improved Weather and Climate Modeling

In the longer term the project is expected to have a considerable impact on climate research and weather forecasting by enabling faster, higher-precision simulations. This in its turn is of great potential benefit as it will help reduce the impact of global warming, and specifically severe weather events such as storms and floods. The World Economic Forum (WEF) estimates the cost of such events at more than $250 billion for the next 10 years. According to the WEF study "Global Risks 2011", no other events have a higher likelihood than storms and cyclones, and no other event has a higher estimated cost ($1000 billion) than climate change. Consequently, reducing the economic impact of such events is an absolute top priority for the world economy.

Better forecasting will also result in better utilisation of renewable resources such as wind and wave energy, which will help the UK to meet its carbon emission reduction targets.

Apart from these benefits resulting from the improved weather and climate models, the technology developed can also benefit other areas of the UK economy, as
the approach used for the weather models can be used for many other types of scientific computing.

* Impact of FPGA Accelerated Computing

FPGA acceleration is potentially very high impact because FPGAs have a much lower power consumption than GPUs or conventional CPUs. They provide the ability to deliver increased computational power without the high cost in terms of power consumption, space and equipment incurred by scaling a conventional supercomputer. As such they enable both low-cost access to HPC resources and scalability into exascale performance. "Exascale computing" is the term used for the efforts to scale the performance of the current supercomputers with a factor of 1000. The main problem to be solved is power consumption, and this is why the use of FPGAs is seen as very attractive.

Finally, FPGA acceleration can also be used for general-purpose computing in data centres, and as shown in our recent work with HP (to be published at the ISPASS conference) this can lead to a factor of 10 reduction in Total Cost of Ownership, mainly through the dramatic reduction of the energy bill of the data centre. The technology we aim to develop to for FPGA acceleration of scientific computing applications will make it much easier to create FPGA-accelerated applications and thus lower the threshold to the adoption of FPGAs in data centres.
Description I must point out that this was a 2-month travel grant.
Nevertheless, the research done during the research visit showed that it is possible and beneficial to accelerate the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) using GPUs. WRF is the most used numerical weather prediction software amongst meteorologists. By showing that if could effectively be accelerated on GPUs and that this is worthwhile, we took the first step to achieving a GPU-accelerated WRF, which in its turn would lead to higher-resolution weather modeling, which is esp. important for study of severe weather events.
Exploitation Route Accelerating WRF is a huge effort that can only be done by a large team. Now that we have shown that it can be done, others can take up this challenge.
Also, the software developed to do this work is of general use for GPU programming, and Open Source, so anyone can use it to their benefit.
Sectors Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Electronics,Energy,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Transport
URL https://github.com/wimvanderbauwhede/OpenCLIntegration
Description This was a 2-month travel grant to work in the Disaster Prevention Research Institute of Kyoto University. This collaboration allows meteorologists studying severe weather events to make use of the latest technology in parallel computing to accelerate their simulations.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment
Title OpenCLIntegration 
Description An OpenCL wrapper class and a SCons build library to simplify integration of OpenCL code in C++, C, Fortran and Perl (c) Wim Vanderbauwhede 2010-2015 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2010 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact This software was essential for my work on acceleration of the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) and other work on OpenCL acceleration. 
URL https://github.com/wimvanderbauwhede/OpenCLIntegration
Title RefactorF4Acc 
Description An Automated Fortran Code Refactoring Tool To Facilitate Acceleration of Numerical Simulation 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2012 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact Without this software, I could not have done the research on OpenCL acceleration of the Weather Research and Forecasting model (WRF), nor this year's OTG work on acceleration of a Large Eddy Simulator and model coupling with WRF 
URL https://github.com/wimvanderbauwhede/RefactorF4Acc