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Wednesday, Jun 23, 2021

University of Hong Kong Researchers Model Climate Change's Effects on Land Use Using New HPC Cluster

University of Hong Kong Researchers Model Climate Change's Effects on Land Use Using New HPC Cluster

Dr Jed O. Kaplan leads the TERRACES Research Group in the Department of Earth Sciences at The University of Hong Kong, where he and his team study the role of land cover influencing climate change.

Specifically, Dr Kaplan and his team examine how climate change affects land use and land cover, and how these in turn affect hydrological cycles, soil, atmosphere, and the built environment including interactions and feedbacks among these components. Dr Kaplan’s group tackle some of the major unsolved problems in understanding global environmental change in the past, present, and future, including the role of climate change on wildfires, the potential of tropical forests to draw down CO2 from the atmosphere, and how deforestation affects the frequency of drought. For more than 25 years, Dr Kaplan has worked on the development and application numerical simulation models of the global land surface that are used to address these questions.

Dr Kaplan’s research work is highly compute intensive, involving multiple datasets and large scale simulations. Typical projects can run to 500 or more simulations, with subtle variations in assumptions and variables. Each simulation results in 3-10 GB of data across climate and surface vegetation models, with entire project results being 5TB or more. To analyse these very large data sets, the team uses advanced statistical analyses, Geographic Information Systems and 3D visualisations, and a range of custom software to understand the key drivers and consequences of global change.

In recent decades, computer simulation modelling of global environmental change has only become more complex, with more variables and higher spatial and temporal resolution, leading to larger datasets to analyze and archive. With Dr Kaplan’s research team growing rapidly, his group could be processing up to 50TB of active, work in progress data. This could easily double in the coming years as simulations grow in size and complexity.

New HPC Cluster


When Dr Kaplan arrived at The University of Hong Kong in 2019, this work on environmental modelling and simulations was a new research field for the University. While an existing high performance computing cluster was in place at the HKU, it was in high demand across the institution. Fortunately, the University supported Dr Kaplan and the TERRACES team with an investment in a new HPC cluster for the team.

From previous experience, Dr Kaplan knew exactly what he needed, as he explained the team required “a small/medium high performance computing cluster – with the best compute capability for the budget, and a requirement for enough high performance data storage capacity to handle the simulations”. Functionally, the HPC cluster had to be able to run model simulations, perform statistical analysis of the results, and prepare visualisations for a team of up to 10-12 researchers. Dr Kaplan was also looking for a modular design that would allow for easy addition of more compute or more storage as required in the future.


As The University of Hong Kong went to market for the HPC cluster, Dr Kaplan was looking for an IT partner to provide the latest advice and experience in HPC technology and design. In the market, Dr Kaplan found that his HPC cluster project “was too small for the global vendors, and too large for the local resellers”. XENON, partnering with local reseller ModernTech, responded to the tender and Dr Kaplan liked their approach, noting that the XENON team was “really able to listen to our requirements and help us get to a solution.”

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