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Understanding geological formations with precision modelling

Researchers from the University of Sydney’s Basin GENESIS Hub (BGH) are running models on Raijin that were previously impossible to compute, to gain an understanding of how continents and sedimentary basins are formed.

Associate Professor Patrice Rey says the Hub’s purpose is “to understand the formation of continental margins and sedimentary basins in the context of the global Earth, in which we account for the mantle flow, tectonic processes and surface processes.”

Australia is coloured in green, fading to yellow and red to show elevation. The country is surrounded by a swirl of blue.

The topography of Australia, from the Badlands model developed at the Basin Genesis Hub and the University of Sydney.

The team is working with four different computer codes, each looking at a different element of the sedimentary basin process, including mantle flow, plate tectonics and surface effects. Researchers at BGH are progressively working to couple the individual codes, so that all the important factors of the Earth’s geodynamics are being taken into account in one all-encompassing model.

Such a model is still a couple of years away, but in the meantime, they are making world leading findings. Researchers have been able to model the evolution of the Australian landscape over the past 150 million years, using the Badlands computer code that they developed to look at erosion and sediment transportation.

“The capacity of Badlands to simulate the evolution of a landscape, that’s really mindboggling” says Associate Professor Rey. “That has definitely attracted a lot of attention from our colleagues and industry partners here. I don’t think there is any place in the world where this has been done before. So it’s definitively a first.”

To run all of these models, the group was awarded one of the top four allocations across the country for 2016, 11 million computing hours on Raijin and other supercomputers, through the National Computational Merit Allocation Scheme. Associate Professor Rey says, “We are really excited about the future and we are really grateful to have access to such a numerical infrastructure here in Australia.”

“This is a very exciting time in science,” he explains, “The equations we solve are the Navier-Stokes equations. Those equations have been with us for 150 years, but it is only right now that we can really use those mathematical concepts developed a century and a half ago, combine it with computer science from the mid twentieth century and now we have the infrastructure, the computational power to make use of all these developments, and that’s really exciting.”

The work that the Basin GENESIS Hub team is doing relies on the High Performance Computing that NCI and other HPC facilities around the country provide. “We are not aware of any other infrastructure that can accommodate our numerical modelling. That kind of computational power is out of reach of most universities so we rely on national infrastructure for our research.”

BasinHub  Uni-of-Sydney

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