An international research group is harnessing the power of big data, supercomputing and global research network infrastructure to transform the way we model the Earth’s processes.
The Basin GENESIS Hub project, led by the EarthByte Group at the School of Geosciences at the University of Sydney, is using global research network infrastructure, AARNet's CloudStor service and Australia’s most powerful supercomputer to access, share and analyse huge datasets, helping to explain how sedimentary basins have formed and changed over hundreds of millions of years.
Sedimentary basins lie below the Earth’s surface and contain many of the natural resources we use in day-to-day life, such as groundwater, raw materials and sources of energy. They are formed by a complex interplay of processes on the Earth’s surface and below it, such as the movement of tectonic plates and deep Earth mantle convection.
The Basin GENESIS Hub project's research helps gauge the resource and energy potential of individual sedimentary basins, and is focused on georgaphical areas, including the north-west shelf of Australia, Papua New Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean continental margins.
The researchers use open-source software to model planetary processes over tens of millions of years in 5D – layering time and estimates of uncertainty on top of 3D. Visualisation software is then applied to the analysis to create 4D animations that demonstrate the results:
Funded by the Australian Research Council and industry partners, project partners include the California Institute of Technology, Curtin University, University of Melbourne and Geoscience Australia.
Spread across the globe, a crucial requirement for the project was the ability to access and share massive amounts of data between their national and international partners – or nodes.
The project’s modelling is extremely data intensive: for example, their mantle convection models go back 410 million years, and require large input files in 1 million year intervals – such as plate velocities, age of seafloor and continents.
To manage such large volumes of data, the project relies on some of the most powerful network and computing resources available in the world today.
Thanks to research and education networks, high-speed connections link the national and international nodes, as well as the main supercomputer resource at the National Computational Infrastructure (NCI) facility, located at the Australian National University.
In Australia, the University of Sydney and the NCI supercomputing facility are both connected to AARNet, Australia’s research and education network.
AARNet’s national connectivity between research and education institutions in Australia, and interconnections with international research and education networks, helps ensure seamless and reliable connectivity between the nodes.
Finally, the project needed efficient ways to transfer very large files – for example, to share large raw datasets, model outputs and visualisations with international colleagues.
Dr Sabin Zahirovic, a Post-Doctoral Researcher at the University of Sydney, explains some of the initial challenges.
“The proprietary solutions we first used had very slow transfer speeds, and an unworkable file size limitation (usually several gigabytes), short file expiry timeframes, as well as obscure policies on how our sensitive data may be treated on their servers.”
The project turned to AARNet, whose Cloudstor service enables researchers and staff to quickly and securely sync, share and store files using its high-speed network.
“CloudStor is essential for sharing very large files – ones that would be impossible to send in e-mail, and would very quickly clog up other cloud-based accounts. As CloudStor is part of the AARNet network, I can very quickly upload huge files, and then conveniently send a plain hyperlink to collaborators.”
“I have not come across any platform that comes even close to the functionality and speed of the CloudStor service, especially with all the new features launched in November 2016, such as end-to-end encryption with password protection, usability improvements and better performance stability,” Dr Zahirovic explained.
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“I have not come across any platform that comes even close to the functionality and speed of the CloudStor service.”