Earthquake Team Wins SC06 Analytics Challenge

For the second year in a row, this award recognized work made possible by TeraGrid and PSC resources.

PITTSBURGH, November 30, 2006 — A team of scientists and engineers from Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Texas, the University of California, Davis, and the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC) won the Analytics Challenge Award at SC06. The award was presented on Nov. 16 in Tampa, site of SC06 — the international conference of high-performance computing, networking, data storage and analysis — after a presentation by team leader Tiankai Tu of Carnegie Mellon.

PHOTO: Earthquake

The goal of the team's work is to realistically simulate earthquake ground motion and thereby better assess the seismic hazard to populated earthquake basins. Their award-winning project combines powerful simulation and visualization methods, using PSC’s Cray XT3 (BigBen) — a lead computing resource of the TeraGrid — with PSC-developed software that enables real-time visualization. Their coordinated end-to-end approach, which they call Hercules, provides a new capability for scientists and engineers to gather insight from earthquake simulations that use hundreds or thousands of processors simultaneously.

They first applied Hercules in August by simulating the 1994 Northridge earthquake with 1,024 processors of PSC's Cray XT3. Real-time visualization allowed the researchers to view difficult-to-observe physical phenomena. "We were able to see strong concentrations of seismic energy in both the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles Basin, while seismic waves in the nearby Santa Monica Mountains and San Gabriel Mountains had dissipated — a validation that sedimentary basins trap seismic energy during strong earthquakes," said Carnegie Mellon civil and computational engineer Jacobo Bielak, one of the leaders of the Quake Group.

"The stunning real-time visualization is made possible by a new computational technique called end-to-end simulation, where mesh generation, partitioning, solving, visualization and data analysis are performed in place and in parallel on the nodes of a supercomputer," said David O'Hallaron, associate professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon, co-leader of the Quake Group.

Hercules relies on software called PDIO (Portals Direct I/O), developed by PSC staff, that supports run-time remote interaction with a parallel program on the Cray XT3. PDIO routes data between the Hercules simulation and a remote laptop/desktop running QuakeShow, a visualization program that makes it possible to change view angles, zoom in or out and other operations — while the simulation is running.

Inaugurated in 2005, in response to the need for sophisticated analysis and visualization methods to contend with huge amounts of scientific data from large-scale parallel computation, the Analytics Challenge honors advanced techniques for solving complex, real-world problems. The initial Analytics Challenge award also went to a project that used the TeraGrid and relied heavily on PSC resources, the SPICE project (Simulated Pore Interactive Computing Environment), led by theoretical chemist Peter Coveney, University College London.

The Quake Group's award-winning project was officially titled "Remote Runtime Steering of Integrated Terascale Simulation and Visualization." The full team comprises Hongfeng Yu, University of California, Davis (technical lead); Tu, Carnegie Mellon (team lead); Bielak, Carnegie Mellon; Omar Ghattas, University of Texas at Austin; Julio C. Lopez, Carnegie Mellon; Kwan-Liu Ma, University of California, Davis; O'Hallaron, Carnegie Mellon; Leonardo Ramirez-Guzman, Carnegie Mellon; Nathan Stone, PSC; Ricardo Taborda-Rios, Carnegie Mellon; and John Urbanic, PSC.

More information:
Hercules Does Northridge (Projects in Scientific Computing 2006)
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 12-13-06

About PSC:
The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center is a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh together with Westinghouse Electric Company. Established in 1986, PSC is supported by several federal agencies, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and private industry, and is a partner in the National Science Foundation TeraGrid program.