The e-science platform of the Virtual Earthquake and Seismology Research Community in Europe (VERCE) aims to accelerate research into earthquakes and seismology. For example, in order to simulate the subsurface of a particular region, VERCE seismologists no longer need to be experts in using the supercomputers made available to them by PRACE and others.
Earthquakes have always been one of the major natural hazards faced by humanity around the globe. To analyse earthquake hazards and create hazard maps, as well as understand processes going on within the Earth’s interior and to explore deposits, seismologists use the ground motion data recorded by more than 10,000 seismometers installed worldwide. With these vast amounts of data seismologists can perform hazard analyses and, with appropriate software and computer models, represent the subsurface and Earth’s interior – similar to the way computer tomography looks inside the human body. Thus it is possible, for example, to monitor volcanoes or find energy-bearing deposits.
Processing massive amounts of data efficiently
Calculating seismograms and tomographic representations is hugely complex due to the vast amount of data coming from seismometers that needs to be processed. All that processing can only be managed using powerful supercomputers, and this was why European seismologists launched the Virtual Earthquake and Seismology Research community in Europe (VERCE) in 2008. Its goal was to develop an e-science platform to help researchers to solve problems quickly and efficiently. The models and hardware have grown too complex, according to Heiner Igel, a seismologist at the University of Munich, who participated in the development of VERCE. “In recent years we burned through hundreds of person-years in developing parallel software.” VERCE is designed to reduce the time for solving certain questions, and provide researchers with a rapid, optimal solution to the problem. VERCE is usable by scientists with little background knowledge in high-performance computing (HPC). From their computers or laptops they can send a specific query to the e-platform as a black box. There, the required seismic data is retrieved and software appropriate to that query is selected automatically. The calculations are then sent for number-crunching by a supercomputer linked with VERCE, for example one belonging to the HPC infrastructure operated by PRACE. Afterwards, the results go back to the researchers and are stored in the cloud.
To this end, a highly complex workflow system has been set up. Available within its framework are various intercommunicating codes for calculating seismic problems. At the end of the workflow is a database of metadata that keeps track of which version of a code has solved which particular problem and how the data output was filtered, explains Igel.
Online since October
The platform has been in operation since October 2015. Although it has not yet fulfilled all of the seismologists’ dreams, IT experts stress that VERCE is one of the few projects to have accomplished the enormously complex challenge of linking together domain science (seismology), the cloud and supercomputing centres. The platform is to be extended in future so that one day, the dream of ‘automated tomography’ of the Earth’s interior can be attained.
Rosa Filguiera of VERCE higlihted the convergence between large scale instruments, data and HPC during a networking session organised by PRACE, EUDAT and EGI at ICT 2015 in Lisob, Portugal.
For more information about VERCE please visit: http://www.verce.eu/