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Last modified: Monday, August 20, 2007

IU research labs receive $1.9 million for Polar Grid research

August 20, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Despite the August heat, researchers from Indiana University are about to get a whole lot cooler. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded an IU-led team $1.96 million to create a cyberinfrastructure that will help scientists better understand the current and future state of polar ice sheets.

Under the leadership of Geoffrey C. Fox, director of Pervasive Technology Labs' Community Grids Lab and IU professor of informatics, the project team includes partners from Elizabeth City State University and the University of Kansas' Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets.

NSF funding and additional IU support will be used to create a computer grid spanning from the North to the South Pole. This "Polar Grid" will be comprised of ruggedized laptops and clusters deployed in the field in the polar regions, and also two large scale clusters for detailed data analysis in the U.S. -- a 17 Teraflops cluster to be installed at IU, and a 5 TFLOPS cluster at Elizabeth City State University. The clusters will be made highly accessible through a science gateway, using Web 2.0 and portal approaches designed to make high performance computers easier to use.

"The Polar Grid project will transform U.S. capabilities in ice sheet research," said Fox. "With this technology, it will be possible to collect, examine and analyze data -- and then use the results of such analysis to optimize data collection strategies -- all during the course of a single expedition. This will help scientists more quickly gain understanding about the potential impact of rising sea levels and how they relate to global climate change, a problem of urgent importance."

The Polar Grid represents a dramatic change from the current method of study, in which expeditions occur during the summer months, data is brought back to the U.S. for analysis, and a new expedition takes place the following year.

In addition to impacting polar science, the project builds upon Fox's existing efforts to help minority serving institutions enhance their research by gaining greater access to cyberinfrastructure. The Polar Grid project will provide Elizabeth City State University, a historically black university in North Carolina, with a high performance computing cluster and will give its researchers access to IU's cluster, using a high speed network connection.

"Polar Grid will give Elizabeth City some very powerful and highly advanced, high performance computing equipment," said Matt Link, director of Research Technologies-Systems for University Information Technology Services at Indiana University, who serves as equipment coordinator for the project. "ECSU researchers will have access to cyberinfrastructure that's on par with some of the nation's top colleges and universities."

Linda Hayden, co-principal investigator from Elizabeth City State University, says the Polar Grid project will support student learning by expanding ECSU's existing polar science efforts, as well as providing greater access to and understanding of high performance computers.

"This will give ECSU a top-ranked 5 Teraflop high performance computing system, building on existing distance education and undergraduate laboratory infrastructure, that will enable crucial ice-sheet science and educate a diverse workforce in both polar science and cyberinfrastructure," said Hayden.

Faculty and student researchers will participate in field data collection and in Polar Grid implementation of a base camp 64-core cluster, allowing near real-time analysis of radar data by the polar field teams. Students trained and educated on Polar Grid also will participate in internships and enhance the entry of a diverse workforce into important science.

Indiana University is one of fewer than a dozen resource partners that provide hardware resources for the NSF-funded TeraGrid, a national-scale NSF cyberinfrastrtucture facility. IU also will leverage its involvement in the TeraGrid to support the Polar Grid project.

The Polar Grid research team started initial planning earlier this month, and they hope to begin equipment installation in late fall of 2007.

About Pervasive Technology Labs and UITS at Indiana University

Pervasive Technology Labs at Indiana University ( was established in 1999 by a grant from Lilly Endowment, Inc. It performs leading-edge research based on the ubiquity of information technology in today's world, creating new inventions, devices and software that extend the capabilities of information technology in advanced research and everyday life. Fundamental to its mission are efforts to attract, encourage, educate and retain Indiana 's workforce of tomorrow, and to accelerate economic growth in the state through the commercialization of new inventions and by forming and supporting new start-up companies. In carrying out its mission, Pervasive Technology Labs is helping Indiana University maintain its position of international leadership in information technology research and as a result is helping to enhance the prosperity of the entire state of Indiana.

University Information Technology Services at IU, with offices on the Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses, develops and maintains a university-wide information technology environment to support excellence in research, teaching, outreach and lifelong learning. Through providing high performance computing, visualization technologies and network management, UITS contributes toward the advancement of multi-disciplinary research. It also supports research among hundreds of research and education institutions by providing network operations for several advanced networks such as Internet2.

About Elizabeth City State University

Elizabeth City State University is a historically black university located in the northeastern corner of North Carolina. Through its Center of Excellence in Remote Sensing Education and Research, ECSU continues to develop its remote sensing and cyberinfrastructure capabilities which serve the polar science community and impact the economic development of the region. The impressive commitment of ECSU to this project include both a newly remodeled building and faculty lines.

About the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets

The Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets ( is a science and technology center established by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in 2005, with the mission of developing new technologies and computer models to investigate the present and future contribution of the Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets to sea level change. NSF's Science and Technology Center (STC) program combines the efforts of scientists and engineers to respond to problems of global significance, supporting the intense, sustained, collaborative work that is required to achieve progress in these areas. CReSIS provides students and faculty with opportunities to pursue exciting research in a variety of disciplines; to collaborate with world-class scientists and engineers in the U.S. and abroad; and to make meaningful contributions to the ongoing, urgent work of addressing the impact of climate change. CReSIS is comprised of six partner universities, with the headquarters located at the lead institution, the University of Kansas.