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The MAP ’06 Project: A NASA Contribution to Tropical Cyclone Research

During the summer of 2006 the Earth-Sun Exploration Division (now the Earth Sciences Division) of Goddard Space Flight Center(GSFC) and the Science and Mission Systems Office at Marshall Space Flight Center brought together resources from NASA and from corporate partners to study tropical cyclones. The “MAP ’06 Project,” so named for its affiliation with NASA’s MAP program, applied NASA’s advanced satellite remote sensing technologies and earth system modeling capabilities to improve our understanding of tropical cyclones that develop in and move across the Atlantic basin.   MAP '06 implemented the most recent version of the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) fifth-generation global atmospheric model and the Grid point Statistical Interpolation (GSI) analysis system under development as a collaboration between NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) and the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO) at GSFC.  In addition, the capability to initialize the Weather Research and Forecast (WRF) regional model using GEOS-5 was developed and implemented.  The project began in the early portion of the 2006 hurricane season and continued through late autumn. 

Project Objectives:
The primary objective of MAP ’06 was the application of NASA’s advanced satellite remote sensing technologies and earth system modeling capabilities to improve understanding and prediction of tropical cyclones.  Specific science questions addressed included:

  • Can satellite data assimilation improve prediction (out to 5 days) of easterly waves, tropical cyclogenesis and hurricanes? 
  • How sensitive are tropical cyclone predictions to the types and distributions of assimilated satellite data?
  • What are the impacts of increased horizontal resolution in the model and data assimilation system on tropical cyclogenesis and subsequent track and intensity forecasts?
  • What role do aerosols play in tropical cyclogenesis in the Atlantic basin?
  • What roles do land – ocean – atmosphere interactions play in the structure and evolution of easterly waves as they propagate off the western African coast?

Global Modeling
A unique aspect of the project was the use of new satellite data sets by scientists at the Global Modeling and Assimilation Office (GMAO). The GEOS-5 atmospheric model is a weather-and-climate capable model which has been integrated with the NCEP/GMAO GSI to produce a new atmospheric data assimilation system (DAS), the GEOS-5 DAS. The global model forecasts for MAP '06 were at 1/4 degree with 72 vertical levels. Initial conditions during the early phase of the project were acquired from the NCEP Global Forecast System (GFS). Analyses from the GEOS-5 DAS were available for model initialization in late August.  During the course of the project, depending on the availability of computational resources, tests of the data assimilation system were conducted at 1/4 degree resolution. Five-day global model forecasts were conducted up to twice per day. A prototype version of GEOS-5 that incorporated the direct effect of aerosols on radiation was incorporated into the project later in the summer to study the impact of sub-Saharan dust on tropical cyclone development in the eastern Atlantic.

Regional Modeling
The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model is a next-generation mesocale numerical weather prediction system designed to serve both operational forecasting and atmospheric research needs.  It can be operated across a wide range of scales ranging from 100’s of meters in cloud resolving mode and 100’s of kilometers on the synoptic scale. Use of WRF in MAP '06 linked the activities of the MSFC Short-term Prediction Research and Transition Center (SPoRT) with regional modeling activities at GSFC and global modeling capabilities at the GMAO. The intent was to initialize WRF with GEOS-5 analyses produced by the GSI analysis system in the tropical Atlantic basin at resolutions of 2-km. This was done on an on-demand basis as events of interest unfolded in the tropical Atlantic. The regional modeling component of the project investigated the impact of high-resolution (1-km) sea surface temperature composites generated from the MODIS instrument on air-sea interactions from the perspective of tropical cyclogenesis and subsequent tropical cyclone track and intensity prediction.  Another area of interest was land-atmosphere interactions over western Africa. MAP '06 testedt a prototype version of WRF dynamically coupled with the Goddard high resolution Land Information System (LIS).  In addition, MAP '06 provided a framework to test alternative versions of WRF developed through NASA projects designed to study cloud-microphysical processes.

Potential Field Support for NAMMA-06
The project coincided with the NASA African Monsoon Multidisciplinary Activities (NAMMA) Extended Observing Period (EOP). MAP '06 worked with NAMMA-06 mission scientists to contribute the global model forecasts for field support of research aircraft in the study cyclogenesis off the west coast of Africa during Special Observing Period 3 (SOP3: August 15 – September 15). MAP '06 experiments have the potential to advance our knowledge of the impact of aerosols and land-sea-ocean interactions on tropical cyclogenesis in concert with the NAMMA-06 program. Goddard scientists used satellite data in conjunction with the GEOS-5 analyses and forecasts to identify direct forcing by dust and black carbonaceous aerosols prior to and during cyclogenesis. The WRF regional model was run over areas at high resolution (2-km) where the global model suggested cyclogenesis might occur. Special attention was given to air-sea-atmosphere interactions using the MODIS SST fields and the LIS coupled to WRF.

Technology and Visualization:
Northrop Grumman Information Technology, GSFC, and Intel joined forces to deliver StormGrid, a unique computational solution for NASA's tropical weather forecasting research. Northrop Grumman IT, through its Business Integration Competency Center (BICC) laboratory located at its Colshire facility in McClean, VA, in collaboration with Intel, provided a high performance computing (HPC) capability designed to leverage 10 Gig optical network access and distributed data servers. StormGrid demonstrated a highly accessible on-demand HPC solution for delivering services in support of NASA's "MAP '06" tropical cyclone prediction effort based on the GEOS-5 global forecast model and the high resolution WRF regional forecast model.

Northrop Grumman's StormGrid provided an HPC system, a Linux cluster consisting of 256 Itanium processors, capable of generating terabytes of research data per day. This research data was seamlessly transferred back to NASA Goddard's scientific data portal via the 10-40Gb/s National Lambda Rail ultrafast optical network to Goddard as it was produced. The StormGrid project leveraged Northrop Grumman's internal research in lambda optical networks, distributed SAN's, HPC, and grid computing systems. NASA used the data from the model runs to analyze hurricane formation with the goal of improving future hurricane forecast systems. StormGrid augmented Agency computing resources provided by the NASA Center for Computational Sciences (NCCS) at Goddard and Project Columbia at the NASA Ames Research Center

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Last Updated: 11/21/2008