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Blue Waters Graduate Fellow: Ronald Stenz

The Blue Waters Graduate Fellowship was awarded to ten outstanding Ph.D. students in computational science. In this series we’re featuring brief introductions to who they are and what they’re trying to accomplish. This program serves to prepare the next generation of science researchers to solve the world’s problems. Follow along as we highlight these young researchers. Read more profiles here.

Tell me a little about yourself—where are you studying now, where did you do your undergrad, what was your major, etc.

I am currently studying Atmospheric Sciences at the University of North Dakota. For undergrad, I completed a double major in Atmospheric Sciences and Applied Economics and Management (specializing in Environmental and Resource Economics) at Cornell University.

Tell me about your research—what are you trying/hoping to accomplish? What made you want to pursue this topic?

For my research, I am trying to determine the impacts that precipitation centrifuging has on tornado dynamics. I have always been fascinated with severe weather and tornadoes, which inspired me to study atmospheric sciences. I am studying this particular topic because in numerical simulations of tornadoes, an unrealistic rain blob appears in the core of simulated tornadoes. My goal is to make these simulations more realistic with a centrifuging algorithm, and to determine the resulting effect on tornado dynamics. Since gathering accurate and dense observations around a tornado is incredibly difficult and dangerous, numerical modeling is a major tool used to understand tornadoes. For my research I use a model called CM1 to numerically simulate tornadoes so we can study how they form, what environments they form in, and what factors lead to intensification or weakening of tornadoes. My research for the Blue Waters Fellowship will focus on making these simulations more realistic, while also continuing to study tornado dynamics so we can gain a better understanding of these phenomena.

So what was your process like getting involved with Blue Waters? What made you want to apply for this fellowship?

I heard about the Blue Waters Fellowship through an email and from my advisor. The fellowship was perfect for my stage in Ph.D. work, and the computing time and resources were exactly what I was looking for to complete my project. I submitted my research proposal to Blue Waters for the fellowship, and was thrilled when it was accepted. This project was one I’d been wanting to work on for awhile, but we did not have the computing resources available to do this until the Blue Waters Fellowship.

How will the ability to use Blue Waters impact your research?

The ability to use Blue Waters will enable me to pursue my research. The combination of computing time and visualization tools will allow me to conduct a statistically significant study on the impacts of centrifuging while the visualization tools will let me show centrifuging in action using trajectories. The 50,000 node hours awarded will allow me to conduct a thorough and statistically significant analysis of the impacts of centrifuging on tornado dynamics. Additionally, visits will enable me to show centrifuging in action by tracing the trajectories through simulated tornadic supercells.

Would you have been able to do this kind of research on any other machine? Why or why not?

It would be very difficult to do this work using other machines. In the past I have used the Stampede Supercomputer at the Texas Advanced Computing Center for my research, but it would have been extremely difficult to get this kind of computing time, and the visualization tools and support of the Blue Waters staff would not be available to me.

What is the overall impact that your research will have on the science community and the world at large?

I hope that my research will improve the quality of tornado simulations, and hopefully further the understanding of tornado dynamics. With better understanding of tornadoes, it is possible we will be able to better predict them, and limit injuries and fatalities that occur every year throughout the world from these violent storms. I hope that my research will also provide other researchers in the community an algorithm to improve the quality of their simulations as well. There are many different facets to numerical modeling studies of tornadoes, so it is important that all of these simulations can be as physically realistic as possible, especially in complex chaotic systems such as tornadoes. I hope that I will learn not only about the impacts centrifuging of precipitation has on tornadoes, but also that I am able to share this information and algorithm so other studies can benefit from my findings as well.

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