Climate Change Threatens Supercomputers

Climate Change Threatens Supercomputers

Climate change is beginning to have an enormously negative effect on technology. Intense heat waves, wildfires and droughts are becoming increasingly common and supercomputers have now apparently become part of the collateral damage.

The California wildfire in 2018, also known as the Camp Fire, is one such incident. Following a savage drought, it burned 620 square kilometers of land, reduced several towns to near ashes and killed at least 85 people. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC), a supercomputer facility operated by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), suffered a ripple effect  from the flames of the disaster though it was nearly 230 kilometers away.

The facility typically relies on outside air to help cool its hot electronics. Yet smoke and soot from the fire forced engineers to cool recirculated air, driving up humidity levels.

“That’s when we discovered, ‘Wow, this is a real event,’” Norm Bourassa, an energy performance engineer at NERSC, says. NERSC serves about 3,000 users a year in fields from cosmology to advanced materials.

California utilities cut NERSC’s power as hot and dry weather took a toll again a year later. This they did out of fear that winds near LBNL would blow trees into power lines, sparking new fires.

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Photo:, NOAA Photo Library CC BY 2.0;

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