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NETL’s Joule 2.0 Supercomputer Helps Study Extreme Wave Threat in the Gulf of Mexico
Stock image of an oil rig in tumultuous waters.

NETL researchers successfully used the Laboratory’s Joule 2.0 supercomputer to create synthetic physics-based tropical cyclone wave simulations that help provide insights into the behavior of extreme waves in the Gulf of Mexico.

Extreme waves are one of the most destructive forces in the Gulf of Mexico, known to have destroyed and damaged thousands of offshore structures. Since extreme events are rare, historical observations of events over the past few decades are insufficient to develop insights into extreme wave events, hindering the ability to anticipate future events and ensure that design and maintenance criteria are in place to provide offshore safety.

To help understand extreme wave behaviors and predict future extreme wave events, NETL used its supercomputer, Joule 2.0, to develop synthetic physics-based tropical cyclones and third-generation wave models to generate extreme-wave statistics under present and future climate conditions.

Wave modeling shows significant wave height. The data, enabled by NETL’s Joule 2.0 supercomputer, was obtained from physics-based modeling of the Gulf Coast of Mexico.
Wave modeling shows significant wave height. The data, enabled by NETL’s Joule 2.0 supercomputer, was obtained from physics-based modeling of the Gulf Coast of Mexico.

Supercomputers are computers that feature a high level of performance compared to general-purpose computers. They aid scientific research, weather forecasting, and advanced simulations and solve the world's most intricate problems with unparalleled precision. A supercomputer consists of thousands of small computers called nodes. Each node is equipped with its own memory and processors. To make the supercomputing system fast, a communications hub connects those minicomputers. Instead of working as separate units, they act as one, managing millions of tasks to tackle complex problems quickly.

Expertise and a complex infrastructure are required to operate supercomputer facilities and make them available to scientists, who use their power to run computational experiments like the extreme wave project. 

For the Gulf of Mexico work, more than 200 gigabytes of data were processed by Joule 2.0 from a range of scientific sources in a variety of formats including metocean data.

Metocean is an acronym that comes from two words: meteorology and oceanography. Metocean studies collect and examine meteorological and oceanographic conditions in offshore coastal engineering or renewable energy projects. Metocean conditions refer to the combined wind, wave and ocean current conditions at certain locations. Metocean data is most often presented as statistics that incorporate information on seasonal variations, scatter tables, wind roses and extreme event probability of exceedance. 

By running many iterations of the processing code for validation, Joule 2.0 helped accelerate the scrubbing of the data for reliable use in examining extreme wave variations.

Supercomputing has provided researchers with data that was previously difficult if not impossible to obtain.

According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, which provides independent objective advice for the benefit of society, “Supercomputer simulations can augment or replace experimentation in cases where experiments are hazardous, expensive, or even impossible to perform or to instrument.”

At NETL, Joule 2.0 has allowed researchers to model energy technologies, simulate challenging phenomena and solve complex problems as they seek to make efficient use of the nation’s energy

resources. Joule 2.0 has also supported effective collaboration among researchers at NETL and with external research partners in a virtual environment. Ultimately, Joule’s advanced computational tools save time and money by accelerating energy technology development.

The success of this and other energy-related NETL supercomputing projects set the stage for the next generation Joule supercomputer that will be unveiled later this year. Joule 3.0 will enable additional and even more complex projects to be tackled by NETL researchers that will drive innovation and deliver solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future.

NETL is a DOE national laboratory that drives innovation and delivers technological solutions for an environmentally sustainable and prosperous energy future. By using its world-class talent and research facilities, NETL is ensuring affordable, abundant, and reliable energy that drives a robust economy and national security, while developing technologies to manage carbon across the full life cycle, enabling environmental sustainability for all Americans.