Saving Wetlands with Computers

XSEDE science gateway helps researchers study Louisiana coast

The coastal wetlands of Louisiana near the mouth of the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico are at risk. For years, researchers and journalists have been studying the vanishing wetlands of the Bayou State. You can read stories about the disappearing wetlands and their impact here, here and here, among others. Many factors have played a part in why the state is losing approximately a football-field sized parcel of land every hour, but it's happening.


Since 2015, XSEDE has emerged as an important tool to help stifle land loss thanks to a science gateway called "SIMULOCEAN," which was developed by the Coastal Hazards Research Collaboratory (CHARCOL) led by Prof. Q. Jim Chen at Louisiana State University (LSU).


Science gateways are web-based "portals" that allow researchers to perform computational science in domain-specific, community-developed interfaces. SIMULOCEAN is one of such portals for researchers to investigate water, air and land dynamics on HPC cloud-ready systems like the XSEDE-allocated Jetstream, for example.


One of the defining characteristics of XSEDE is its ability to cater to the researcher who may not be a computational science expert — in the case of SIMULOCEAN, ecologists and geologists (or any other type of scientist) looking at the wetlands loss in Louisiana can use the NSF-funded project to explore, and perform numerical simulations of various coastal weather events like hurricanes and storm surges on large swaths of land like never before. SIMULOCEAN's easy-to-use interface, along with XSEDE's ECSS program, can help inexperienced cyberinfrastructure users perform the tasks they need to, which will hopefully lead to land saved.


"We think SIMULOCEAN has three primary goals," said Jian Tao, research scientist at the Center for Computation & Technology (CCT) at LSU and developer of SIMULOCEAN. "First, it will increase community and collaboration in this field of study. Second, we want to provide scientists and engineers with easy-to-use computer tools for wetlands restoration and protection. And lastly, we'd like to use and promote NSF-funded resources like XSEDE, which are provided to the greater science community."


Focusing specifically on the "community and collaboration" goal, Tao said, "it's important to enhance the collaboration among earth scientists, computer scientists, cyberinfrastructure specialists and coastal engineers tasked with solving the sustainability issues of deltaic coasts like those in Louisiana."


To make sure SIMULOCEAN is accessed by those researchers without a predisposition to advanced computing resources, it is made to be user-friendly, even allowing a new user to start running applications in mere minutes.


The development of SIMULOCEAN has been supported by the NSF CyberSEES (Cyber-Innovation for Sustainability Science and Engineering) program (CCF-1539567), which "aims to advance interdisciplinary research in which the science and engineering of sustainability are enabled by new advanced in computing."


The XSEDE project fit right in to this project and now offers up the collaborative muscle to hopefully answer important questions about America's quickly-vanishing wetlands.

Louisiana land loss since 1932. Photo: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The SIMULOCEAN Science Gateway allows researchers to access tools that help them investigate water, air, and land dynamics.

The SIMULOCEAN web interface makes using the Science Gateway easy for all levels of researchers.