This month, on a barren Wyoming landscape dotted with gopher holes and hay bales, the federal government is assembling a supercomputer 10 years in the making, one of the fastest computers ever built and the largest ever devoted to the study of atmospheric science.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research’s supercomputer has been dubbed Yellowstone, after the nearby national park, but it could have been named Nerdvana. The machine will have 100 racks of servers and 72,000 core processors, so many parts that they must be delivered in the back of a 747. Yellowstone will be capable of performing 1.5 quadrillion calculations — a quadrillion is a 1 followed by 15 zeros — every second.
The sheer speed of Yellowstone is designed to burst through the limits of chaos theory — the difference, allegorically, between predicting the odds of blackjack after playing five hands versus playing a million. The machine is expected to give scientists a clearer image of the state of the planet, and its future, revolutionizing the study of climate change, extreme weather events, wildfires, air pollution and more.