Computational science has revolutionized the way we understand and interact with the world around us. From simulating weather patterns to modeling the behavior of subatomic particles, computational methods have enabled scientists to make breakthroughs that would have been impossible just a few decades ago. However, as our reliance on computational methods has grown, so too has the carbon footprint of this field.
According to a recent study published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the carbon footprint of computational science is much larger than previously thought. The study estimates that the energy consumption of high-performance computing (HPC) centers, which are used to run large-scale simulations and analyses, is equivalent to that of a small country. In fact, the study estimates that the carbon footprint of HPC centers is larger than that of the entire aviation industry.
The reason for this large carbon footprint is the enormous amount of energy required to power and cool the thousands of computer processors and storage devices that make up HPC centers. These machines use a tremendous amount of electricity to run, and even more to cool, which generates significant amounts of greenhouse gases.
The study’s authors also point out that the carbon footprint of computational science is likely to grow in the future as the demand for HPC services increases. This is due in part to the growing amount of data that scientists need to process and analyze, as well as the increasing complexity of simulations and models.
Loïc Lannelongue, the author of the study was curious about the environmental impact of his own research. Together with Jason Grealey from the University of Melbourne, they decided to look further into ways of calculating the carbon footprint of HPC centers. They expected to find an already established carbon footprint calculator online. Which to their surprise, they did not. It lead them to believe that the environmental impact of HPC centers is a phenomon that many scholars aren’t aware of or are not taking into consideration when utilizing HPC centers for their work.
Inspired to fill this gap in the scientific community, Lannelongue created Green Algorithms. A website that encourages other researchers to be mindful of the carbon footprint of computational science by imparting knowledge on how to reduce your impact while also providing a high performance computing carbon footprint calculator for anyone to access. Lannelongue doesn’t hope to stop researchers from using HPC centers, but instead to be more mindful of their impact. For which the calculator is a perfect tool for.
While the carbon footprint of computational science may seem daunting, on the green algorithms website Lannelongue provides steps that can be taken to reduce it. One approach is to make HPC centers more energy efficient by using more efficient processors and storage devices, as well as by using more efficient cooling systems. Additionally, scientists can also reduce their carbon footprint by using cloud-based HPC services, which allow them to access large amounts of computing power without the need to build and maintain their own HPC centers.
Another approach is to use distributed computing methods, which allow scientists to tap into the computing power of thousands of individual computers, rather than relying on a single HPC center. This can significantly reduce the energy consumption and carbon footprint of computational science.
In conclusion, computational science plays a vital role in advancing our understanding of the world around us, but it also has a significant carbon footprint. It is important for scientists, policymakers, and other stakeholders to be aware of this footprint and to take steps to reduce it. By making HPC centers more energy efficient, using cloud-based HPC services, and using distributed computing methods, we can continue to make breakthroughs in science while also reducing our impact on the environment.
Brierley, Craig. “Big data’s hidden cost: The carbon footprint of computational science.” TechXplore. Published January 20, 2023. https://techxplore.com/news/2023-01-big-hidden-carbon-footprint-science.html
Green Algorithms. “Carbon Footprint Calculator”. Green Algorithms Accessed January 22, 2023. https://www.green-algorithms.org/
Lannelongue, Loïc. “Carbon footprint, the (not so) hidden cost of high performance computing.” BCS. Published October 14, 2021. https://www.bcs.org/articles-opinion-and-research/carbon-footprint-the-not-so-hidden-cost-of-high-performance-computing/