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SDSC User Carl Wunsch Receives 2006 AGU William Bowie Medal

Research Using Supercomputers Cited in Award, AGU's Highest Honor

Published 01/12/2007

Carl Wunsch, the Cecil and Ida Green Professor of Physical Oceanography at MIT, has received the 2006 William Bowie Medal from the American Geophysical Union (AGU) for "his wide-ranging research in the study of the ocean and its roles in shaping Earth's climate and its changes, and for unselfish cooperation in the field of physical oceanography." Wunsch is a major user of the supercomputers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at UC San Diego.

The Bowie Medal, established in 1939 and awarded annually, is AGU's highest honor. It was presented to Wunsch at the December AGU meeting by Tim Killeen, president of the AGU and director of the new TeraGrid resource provider, the National Center for Atmospheric Research. The AGU is a worldwide scientific community of 45,000 members in 140 countries that advances the understanding of Earth and space for the benefit of humanity.

The award praises Wunsch as a visionary in the study of the oceans and their impact on climate change. Among the most important of his contributions cited was his introduction to oceanography of sophisticated computational techniques known as inverse modeling methods. This approach has the capability to "tease out" accurate estimates of the ocean's state - its velocity, temperature, salinity, and other factors - from the relatively tiny number of observations available for the vast and remote oceans, which cover some 70 percent of the earth's surface.

Reliable information on what is happening throughout the oceans, both present and past, is vital to many efforts including understanding and predicting the earth's climate, due to the ocean's great capacity to store heat and greenhouse gases. The methods introduced by Wunsch, which require supercomputing resources, have created a new paradigm in which numerical models of the ocean are no longer just a theoretical tool but become a practical way to apply ocean physics to greatly increase the accuracy of estimates of ocean conditions.

Wunsch's group, which works with the ECCO (Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean) Consortium, is among SDSC's larger users, using more than 380,000 processor-hours on SDSC's DataStar supercomputer in this allocations cycle. In these runs, ocean observations are interpolated into a highly scalable parallel simulation code, the MIT General Circulation Model, yielding a complete picture of the state of the oceans.