UCAR Mentorship and Remote Computing Resources Boost Remote Research for SOARS Student

Angelie Nieves-Jiménez

Angelie Nieves-Jiménez entered UCAR’s Significant Opportunities in Atmospheric Research and Science (SOARS) program as a protégé in 2019, beginning an undergraduate research project studying sea breezes affecting her home island of Puerto Rico. As a rising senior at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez, she was set to continue her research as part of the SOARS program in 2020. While the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic up-ended her plan to return to Boulder for the summer, a combination of remote teaching, mentorship, and computing resources allowed her to make progress on her research.

“My second year as a SOARS protégé was unusual due to COVID-19,” says Nieves-Jiménez. “Even though the internship and many other UCAR experiences had to be carried out virtually, I had the support of the SOARS Staff, my mentors Rosimar Ríos Berríos and Kelly Keene Werner (both of NCAR’s Mesoscale and Microscale Meteorology Laboratory (MMM)), NCAR employees, and my family, to continue the project I worked on the past summer.”

Nieves-Jiménez’ research focused on determining how trade winds, sea breeze, and terrain affect rainfall location over the western side of the island of Puerto Rico. To analyze rainfall events, she and her mentors used a variety of data, including satellite reanalyses, radar images, radiosonde soundings, model simulations, and in-situ data. To simulate wind behavior, she relied on the NCAR Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model, running 36-hour simulations for 12 separate case studies.

Click to view Nieves-Jiménez’ poster in PDF format

“We used GFS 0.5- and 0.25-degree model output (depending on whether 0.25-degree output was available for the date) as input for initial and boundary conditions,” says Nieves-Jiménez. “We used a 0.333 km domain over the island of Puerto Rico. For each case, we tested with the standard MODIS terrain, and then again with the terrain removed.”

“Unfortunately,” she continues, “even though I was a UCAR visitor, I did not have direct access to the MMM server. Moreover, the WRF outputs needed for my project were not at my disposal.”

It was at this stage that the SOARS staff approached the Unidata program for help. For the past two years, SOARS had been making use of Jupyterhub resources on the Unidata Science Gateway for a series of Computation and Data Workshops led by NCAR data scientist and software engineer Keith Maull. Would it be possible for Nieves-Jiménez to use Science Gateway resources to get remote access to the data she needed? Unidata staff saw this as exactly the sort of problem remote computing resources like the Science Gateway were created to solve, and quickly signed on to assist.

Unidata software developer Julien Chastang, who leads the Science Gateway project, was able to quickly create a JupyterHub with a customized Python for the Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (PyAOS) environment for Nieves-Jiménez’ use. But unlike many common use cases in which Science Gateway resources are used mainly for remote computing, this situation also involved providing access to the large WRF dataset — 862 GBytes — created on NCAR’s Cheyenne supercomputer.

“After pondering for a bit, we decided to move the data from Cheyenne to Unidata Science Gateway storage resources in the NSF Jetstream cloud, hosting the data on a dedicated THREDDS Data Server (TDS) co-located with the JupyterHub,” says Chastang. This setup created an environment for data-proximate analysis that Nieves-Jiménez could access remotely from her home in Puerto Rico.

After obtaining access to the data on the Cheyenne supercomputer, Chastang synchronized the relevant data to a Virtual Machine on the Jetstream cloud — just moving the data took several hours even with high-speed Internet2 capabilities. Unidata developer Sean Arms pitched in to help configure a TDS to make the data available via common remote data access protocols. “I set up a dedicated JupyterHub for Angelie and any necessary libraries she needed to analyze and visualize her data hosted on that TDS. We also ensured the JupyterHub was provisioned with sufficient computational capabilities to handle her large data requirements,” Chastang explained. “Technology-wise everything worked really smoothly, all things considered.”

Using the Science Gateway resources, Nieves-Jiménez was able to continue her research. “Now, my data is available in a remote server and can be accessed from anywhere in the world, in my case Puerto Rico, and at any time of the day,” she says. “I don’t even have the words to thank all those at UCAR who made this possible. I recommend this option to anyone who is looking for an accessible and straightforward coding alternative in the new work/home reality.”

Nieves-Jiménez is completing her bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering and Meteorology at the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez. She plans to attend graduate school to pursue a degree in Risk and Decision Making for Natural Phenomena. At the end of the 2020 SOARS summer session, she summarized her research in a virtual poster titled “Sea Breeze, Trade Wind, and Terrain Influence on Rainfall Location over Western Puerto Rico” (see above image for a link to the poster).


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