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Comet Supercomputer Enables 3-D Models of Fresh Water Plastic Pollution

Detailed Simulations of Lake Erie's Invasive Plastic Particles Made Possible by XSEDE Allocations

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 75 percent of predicted worldwide plastic waste involves nine specific polymer types. These kinds of plastic were the focus of this model of Lake Erie completed using XSEDE allocations on SDSC's Comet supercomputer. The plastic concentration is shown on a logarithmic scale, with light blue indicating lower concentrations and dark purple higher concentrations. Credit: M. Hoffman (Rochester Institute of Technology), S. Mason (Pennsylvania State University at Behrend)

 

By Kimberly Mann Bruch, SDSC Communications

The transport of nine types of plastics floating in Lake Erie was modeled in two studies that used the Comet supercomputer, at the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) at the University of California San Diego, to compare a two-dimensional model with a new Great Lakes microplastic dataset and then develop the first ever three-dimensional mass estimate for plastic in Lake Erie. The studies were recently published in Marine Pollution Bulletin and the Journal of Great Lakes Research by researchers from Pennsylvania State University at Behrend and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).

"Allocations from the National Science Foundation's Extreme Science and Engineering Environment (XSEDE) on Comet allowed us to run three years of hydrodynamic simulations of Lake Erie that drive the transport of plastic particles within Lake Erie," said Matthew Hoffman, an RIT associate professor of mathematical sciences. "We don't have the computing infrastructure at my university to run these simulations efficiently, so having access to Comet enabled us to run state-of-the-art code that is not possible on our local desktops and laptops."

Hoffman worked with Penn State-Behrend Chemistry Professor Sherri Mason, who led the collection of the sampling data that the modeling simulated. Mason's laboratory, which is located on the edge of Lake Erie, made sampling quite convenient.

We don't have the computing infrastructure (in either hardware of software support) at my university to run these simulations efficiently," said Matthew Hoffman, an associate professor of mathematical science at Rochester Institute of Technology. "Having XSEDE allocations and resources allowed us to run state-of-the-art code without all of the package installation/updating that would be required on a less powerful and less supported machine.

"Undergraduate students were heavily involved in this process," added Mason. "We used three different vessels (Niagara, Sea Dragon, and Sara B) to collect our samples, taking advantage of every opportunity afforded to us. We would hop aboard, collect our samples, then take them back to the lab for analysis. Such fieldwork is important to better understand how plastic is not only impacting our lake, but freshwater lakes around the world."

There were more than six metric tons found on the surface and approximately 300 metric tons in the volume of the lake. The nine plastics involved with the study were polystyrene (PS), polyamide (PA; nylon), polymethylene methacrylate (PMMA; acrylic), polyethylene terephthalate (PET; polyester), polyoxymethylene (POM), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polyethylene (PE), polypropylene (PP), and expanded polystyrene (EPS).

This research was funded by The Burning River Foundation. Researchers were provided access to Comet via the National Science Foundation's Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment (XSEDE) program under allocation TG-OCE150006.

 

 

At a Glance

  • Researchers used the XSEDE-allocated Comet supercomputer from SDSC to simulate the first ever three-dimensional mass estimate for plastic in Lake Erie.
  • The supercomputing simulations allowed the researchers to run three years of hydrodynamic simulations that drive the transport of plastic particles within Lake Erie.
  • Undergraduate students from Penn State at Behrend helped to collect the samples and analyze them in the lab.
  • More than six metric tons of plastic was found on the surface and approximately 300 metric tons in the volume of the lake.