ARCHIVED: Completed project: Polar Grid - Cyberinfrastructure for Polar Science

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Primary UITS contacts: Richard Knepper, David Hancock

Completed: September 12, 2011

Description: The Polar Grid project created a computer grid spanning from the North Pole to the South Pole to help scientists better understand the state of polar ice sheets. Polar Grid consists of ruggedized laptops and clusters deployed in the field in the polar regions, and two large-scale clusters for detailed data analysis in the US: a 17-teraFLOPS cluster located at Indiana University and a 5-teraFLOPS cluster at partner institution Elizabeth City State University. The clusters are highly accessible through a science gateway designed to make high-performance computers easier to use. IU also leveraged its involvement in the TeraGrid project to support the Polar Grid project.

Milestones and status:

The Polar Grid project began in August 2007.

  • The field/base camp purchasing project started late 2007.
  • The Polar Grid Cyberinfrastructure team, including participants from the University of Kansas and Elizabeth City State University, met January 23-24, 2008, to plan for the Greenland expedition in May 2008.
  • Final hardware purchases for the Greenland expedition were completed in March 2008, and the equipment was shipped to Schenectady, NY, for shipment to Greenland the first week of April 2008.
  • Polar Grid researchers were on site in Ilulissat, Greenland, taking radar measurements and doing preliminary processing of field data (as of the first week of July 2008).
  • Polar Grid researchers were taking measurements at the NEEM station on the Greenlandic ice starting July 27, 2008.
  • A team from IU returned from a mission to Ilulissat to assist the University of Kansas team with computation of radar data from aerial missions over the Greenland Ice Sheet.
  • University of Kansas researchers asked a team member from IU to accompany them to the NEEM station on the Greenland Ice Sheet. The team member was on site at NEEM as of August 1, 2008. Information about NEEM is available at
  • Preparations for the Antarctic expedition for the Polar Grid project were underway; IU was acquiring equipment to ship to Antarctica in late September 2008.
  • The 2008-2009 Antarctic Expedition was expected to return to the University of Kansas in early March 2009. Equipment for the 2009 Greenland Expedition was being assembled, and the Greenland Expedition was set to ship out for Ilulissat and Kulusuk on March 24.
  • The Ilulissat/Kulusuk expedition returned, having completed six flights over the Jakobshavn glacier, two over the Kangerlussuaq glacier, two over the Helheim glacier, and one over the Godthab glacier, plus a cooperative mission for the US Coast Guard. The Greenland 2009 expedition produced over 6 TB of radar data. Preparations began for the Antarctica 2009 expedition, set to start in November 2009 and prefaced by a number of flights from Chile over the Antarctic ice sheets in early November.
  • Field work in Chile and Antarctica was completed as of January 2010. Researchers made 10-hour overflights from Punta Arenas, Chile, over the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, collecting 31 TB of radar data. Researchers proceeded to Byrd Camp, a deep-field site built near the remains of Byrd Station (originally established in 1957) on the West Antarctic Sheet. Researchers retrieved over 40 TB of radar data from the Byrd Camp missions.
  • The Polar Grid computing clusters for both IU and Elizabeth City State University were delivered, installed, and accepted in February 2010.
  • Work was underway on the code to make it run efficiently on the new, larger clusters. As the data sets being collected grew, so did the need for this extra computational processing.
  • The Greenland 2010 expedition returned in May. This trip was based out of Thule Air Force Base. This was a collaboration with NASA's Operation IceBridge. The Polar Grid project collected over 50 TB of data from 28 flights over the glaciers and sea ice around Greenland. Processing of the data on Polar Grid computing resources began immediately.
  • In August 2010, the Polar Grid computing cluster for ECSU was installed in a newly remodeled server room. This 64-node, 512-core cluster was matched with a user node equipped with 14 TB of usable storage and configured for use by the researchers at the Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research (CERSER).
  • In October 2010, the Polar Grid team, including one IU staff member, began an expedition based out of Punta Arenas, Chile, to support data collection and analysis as part of NASA's Operation IceBridge.
  • The fall 2010 field season completed in November, having collected 20 TB of radar data from flights over Antarctica.
  • Planning for the Operation IceBridge 2011 field season started; an estimated 250 TB of radar data will be captured from flights originating in Kangerlussuaq and Thule, Greenland.
  • Fall field season radar data was transferred to IU's Data Capacitor for processing and archiving on Polar Grid resources in January 2011. KU students studied the fall field season Antarctic data products.
  • The 2011 NASA Operation IceBridge field season started on March 12 in Thule, Greenland. Some science flights were completed, although harsh weather conditions delayed part of the science flight schedule. Later flights were scheduled for Kangerlussuaq, Greenland.
  • The 2011 Twin Otter flights commenced from Illulissat, with additional flights out of Kulusuk, Kangerlussuaq, and Nuuk.
  • In May 2011, Operation IceBridge P3 and CReSIS Twin Otter flights were completed for the spring 2011 field season, and data and infrastructure equipment were shipped back to the US. The flights collected more than 65 TB of radar data.
  • Preparation and packing for the fall 2011 field season was completed at IU, with IU field engineers preparing for missions originating in Punta Arenas, Chile, and McMurdo Station, Antarctica. The Chile field missions were set to occur over 4 weeks. Antarctica field missions were set to occur over 8 weeks, returning in January 2012.

Benefits: Polar Grid transformed US capabilities in ice sheet research, making it possible to collect, examine, and analyze data during the course of a single expedition. This represented a dramatic change from previous methods of study.

In addition to impacting polar science, Polar Grid built upon PI Geoffrey Fox's prior efforts to help minority-serving institutions enhance their research capabilities by gaining greater access to cyberinfrastructure. The Polar Grid project provided Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university in North Carolina, with a high-performance computing cluster and gave its researchers access to IU's cluster via a high-speed network connection.

Faculty and student researchers participated in field data collection and in the deployment of a 64-core computing cluster at base camp, allowing near real-time analysis of radar data by polar field teams. Students trained and educated through Polar Grid participated in internships and enhanced the diversity of the workforce in important fields of science.

Project team:

  • Principal investigator: Geoffrey C. Fox, Director, Community Grids Lab; Professor of Informatics, Computer Science, and Physics, Indiana University
  • Co-PIs:
    • Marlon Pierce, Assistant Director, IU Community Grids Lab
    • Craig A. Stewart, Executive Director, IU Pervasive Technology Labs
    • Linda B. Hayden, Director, Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research, Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science, Elizabeth City State University
    • Malcolm LeCompte, Associate Dean and Director of Research, Elizabeth City State University
  • Senior personnel:
    • Beth Plale
    • Donald McMullen
    • Matt Link
    • David Hancock
    • Dennis Gannon

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Last modified on 2018-01-18 15:40:40.