What role do Australia’s Supercomputers have during a bushfire or a pandemic?
At the beginning of 2020, Australia was stunned by the worst bushfires on record, but barely a few months later we’re struggling with COVID-19, which is ravaging the world.
When events like this occur, the decision makers…incorporating federal governments, state governments, health providers and emergency services, need fast and reliable data to determine what’s happening. After that, they need sophisticated modelling to plan for what’s to come, and how to deal with it. While we’ve all heard about supercomputers, probably very few of us know anything about them, where they are or what role they play.
Two major centres provide the high-performance computing research - the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) in Canberra and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre in Perth. NCI houses, Gadi is the most powerful supercomputer in the southern hemisphere, in which has the processing capacity to achieve in an hour, what your average PC would need 35 years to complete. The Pawsey centre is specially designed for data-intensive research in cutting-edge fields, such as space science.
Both centres operate on a 24/7 basis, processing huge quantities of data to provide analysis and forecasts for the decision makers. These data-driven models can provide earlier and more accurate warning of bushfires, floods, hailstorms, cyclones and other extreme events. These accurate alarms give emergency services crucial timely notice, to try to prevent loss of life and property. Currently both national facilities are contributing resources to support researchers in Australia in the fight against COVID-19.
The federal government has invested $70M in each centre for upgrades to ensure the facilities keep up with the increased need for accurate and quick data. Gadi is around nine times more powerful than its predecessor, while the Pawsey’s upgrade has delivered ten times the cloud storage and boosted its capability fivefold.
A new Australian Disaster Resilience Index provides a crucial snapshot and support tool for decision makers, offering a nationally standardised index of resilience for the first time. By measuring the capacity for resilience, we can understand how different regions will be affected, adapt to and cope with the threat.
Supercomputers connected to massive data systems and supported by expert staff, yield crucial insights to enable agencies to identify and respond to crisis, instead of analysis after the event, to determine what happened.