A Supercomputer to Save Earth – “Earth Simulator”

The Earth Simulator (ES) was the fastest supercomputer in the world from 2002 to 2004. The system was developed for NASDA, JAERI, and JAMSTEC in 1997 for running global climate models to evaluate the effects of global warming and problems in solid earth geophysics.


It has been able to run holistic simulations of global climate in both the atmosphere and the oceans down to a resolution of 10 km.

Located at the Earth Simulator Center (ESC) in Kanazawa, Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan, the computer is capable of 35.86 trillion (35,860,000,000,000) floating-point calculations per second, or 35.86 TFLOPS.

Built by NEC, the ES is based on their SX-6 architecture. It consists of 640 nodes with eight vector processors and 16 gibibytes of computer memory at each node, for a total of 5120 processors and 10 tebibytes of memory. Two nodes are installed per 1 metre x 1.4 metre x 2 metre cabinet. Each cabinet consumes 20 kW of power. The system has 700 terabytes of disk storage (450 for the system and 250 for the users) and 1.6 petabytes of mass storage in tape drives. The ES is almost five times faster than ASCI White.


Construction started in October 1999, was completed by February 2002, and the site officially opened on March 11, 2002. The project cost 7.2 billion yen.

Earth Simulator’s capacity was surpassed by IBM’s Blue Gene/L prototype on September 29, 2004.

The ESC has several special features that help to protect the computer from natural disasters or occurrences. A wire nest hangs over the building which helps to protect from lightning. The nest itself uses high-voltage shielded cables to release lightning current into the ground. A special light propagation system utilizes halogen lamps, installed outside of the shielded machine room walls, to prevent any magnetic interference from reaching the computers. The building is constructed on a seismic isolation system, composed of rubber supports, that protect the building during earthquakes.

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