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Supercomputing Earth Technology

Solving an Earth-Sized Jigsaw Puzzle 39

Posted by samzenpus
from the get-the-edges-first dept.
aarondubrow writes "Three years ago, researchers from Caltech and The University of Texas at Austin came together to create a computational tool that could model the Earth and answer the most pressing questions in geophysics: What controls the speed of plates? How do microplates interact? How much energy do the plates generate and how does it dissipate? Using a new geodynamics software package they developed, the researchers have modeled plate motion with greater accuracy than ever before. The project is also a finalist for the Gordon Bell Prize — high performance computing's Oscar — at this year's SC10 conference."
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Solving an Earth-Sized Jigsaw Puzzle

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  • by mlush (620447) on Thursday September 02, 2010 @06:06AM (#33447466)

    You don't even have to be that patient. With a GPS fiducial network you could be getting results in months rather than years.

    Does this work in practice? As I understand it a GPS fiducial network uses ground bases transmitters which would move along with the plate which at the very least would complicate the data analysis...

  • by penguinchris (1020961) <penguinchris.gmail@com> on Thursday September 02, 2010 @10:43AM (#33451516) Homepage

    These sorts of models are great because you run the model, and then see which parts of the earth don't fit in real life. You can then investigate that area more closely and either refine the model, or refine your understanding of that particular region.

    I'm a geologist and most of my undergrad and graduate studies were on tectonics. What they've got here is fantastic and will yield a lot of great new research and discoveries about plate interactions. It's basically an extension of what people have been doing for decades (modeling and comparing models to reality where possible), so the idea is really not new, but the implementation is fantastic.

    So at first it should be fairly clunky, and if you run the model as you suggest going through all of earth's history, yes it will be wrong. But if you take it step-by-step based on what's already understood about past tectonic plate positions (which is quite a lot), i.e. constraining the model, it should be able to show us all kinds of new things and ultimately a complete run-through should be possible that's very accurate. They will be able to continually refine it, of course, as new research comes out, and have a fairly complete model of plate evolution based on whatever the currently accepted progression is.

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