Supercomputer Research Tracks the Loss of the World’s Glaciers

British Columbia – which is over twice the scale of California – incorporates round 17,000 glaciers that cowl three % of its landmass. These glaciers are essential for the Canadian province, which depends on its many glaciers for the whole lot from its water provide to the huge bulk of its energy provide. The glaciers, in fact, are additionally quickly deteriorating within the face of world local weather change. Now, researchers from 4 international locations have used British Columbia’s personal supercomputing assets to conduct the primary complete research of glacier retreat together with all of the world’s glaciers.

The analysis crew – hailing from ETH Zürich, the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC), the University of Oslo and the University of Toulouse – tracked glacial retreat by creating digital elevation fashions primarily based on over 440,000 satellite tv for pc photos from NASA’s Terra satellite tv for pc. Terra data stereo photos – a boon for elevation evaluation – and has been working since 1999, permitting the researchers to return a long time prior to now.

Image evaluation was powered by UNBC’s Klinaklini supercomputer, itself named after the Klinaklini Glacier in British Columbia (pictured within the header). Klinaklini is a Dell system with 16 compute nodes and two Intel CPUs and 196 GB of reminiscence per node, totaling some 1,024 cores and over three terabytes of reminiscence throughout the employee nodes. With that computing energy, the analysis crew used the pictures to generate digital elevation fashions of the world’s roughly 220,000 glaciers.

“The UNBC and Hakai Institute computer facilities allowed us to generate time series of surface elevation, essentially time-varying topographies, at 100-metre resolution for about one-half of a billion individual locations over Earth’s glaciers and their surroundings,” elaborated Romain Hugonnet, the doctoral scholar on the University of Toulouse who led the analysis, which took years to finish – together with 18 months of satellite tv for pc knowledge evaluation.

“Processing spaceborne digital imagery to measure changes in surface elevation requires enormous computation power,” added Brian Menounos, a professor of geography at UNBC. “We needed an equivalent of about 584 modern computers running for about a year to derive these elevation models. Looked at another way, the generation of the elevation models required over five million compute hours.”

Elevation change within the icefield that homes the Klinaklini Glacier from 2000-2019. Image courtesy of the researchers.

The researchers discovered that the previous twenty years had seen a median of 267 gigatons of ice misplaced from glaciers per 12 months, which defined round 21 % of sea degree rise over the studied interval. The soften accelerated because the years went on, virtually hitting 300 gigatons per 12 months by 2019. In Klinaklini’s house within the jap Canadian Arctic, glacial loss contributed a staggering 21 % of the world’s whole. Alaska, Iceland, and the Alps appeared hardest-hit by way of mass loss — however sure areas could stand to lose way more than simply ice.

“The situation in the Himalayas is particularly worrying,” Hugonnet stated. “During the dry season, glacial meltwater is an important source that feeds major waterways such as the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Indus rivers. Right now, this increased melting acts as a buffer for people living in the region, but if Himalayan glacier shrinkage keeps accelerating, populous countries like India and Bangladesh could face water or food shortages in a few decades.”

The crew’s findings shall be included within the subsequent main report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a cornerstone of the local weather science and coverage world. “Our findings are important on a political level. The world really needs to act now to prevent the worst-​case climate change scenario,” stated co-​writer Daniel Farinotti, who leads the glaciology group at ETH Zurich.

Beyond the IPCC report, the researchers are hopeful that their findings shall be helpful for quite a lot of functions, together with the advance of hydrological fashions. “In addition to providing a detailed response of glaciers to regional and climate variability, the dataset will provide important observational data required to validate and improve physically-based models used to forecast changes in glacier and runoff in the decades ahead,” Menounos stated.  

About the analysis

The analysis mentioned on this article was revealed as “Accelerated global glacier mass loss in the early twenty-first century” within the April 2021 concern of Nature. The paper was written by Romain Hugonnet, Robert McNabb, Etienne Berthier, Brian Menounos, Christopher Nuth, Luc Girod, Daniel Farinotti, Matthias Huss, Ines Dussaillant, Fanny Brun and Andreas Kääb and is accessible here.


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