How the Portal Will Help: An Example

tsunami damage tsunami damage

Consider the case of a university researcher who has been working on a computational model that simulates how the runup caused by a large wave erodes the beach around bridge columns and undermines their stability. His graduate students wrote the program to require data in a format they made up, and to generate data in a slightly different format that is turned into an image by another program they wrote. The group had to design their own input data, based roughly on bathymetry data from NOAA and topography data from USGS. Although they have written two research papers about their results, there are no formal documents describing the program structure, nor are their programs, input data, or output data available to other people. Not many people know of the model, unless they happened to hear the preliminary results the researcher presented at a technical conference. A researcher at NOAA is interested in testing the validity of the model, but it only runs on an out-of-date computer at the university, using software that is not available for other machines.

Now suppose that the same computational model has been contributed to the Tsunami Computational Portal. This time, the NOAA researcher can find a complete set of documentation describing the processes modeled by the program, its limitations, and the assumptions that the original research group made in developing the program. Copies of the group's two research papers are available, too. The NOAA expert can quickly get an understanding of how the model really works and what kinds of data it has been tested on so far. She decides to apply the model to a scenario that is similar to the 1960 tsunami at Hilo (Hawaii), since she is familiar with the aftermath reported by the post-tsunami survey team. She uses the Portal's graphical interface to choose a mapped area that is similar to the bay at Hilo. The Portal then guides her through the process of selecting input parameters that mimic the direction and force of the wave that crossed the Pacific to strike Hilo. An hour later, she is able to view the results graphically. Comparing them with what she knows about Hilo, she notes that the computational model underestimates the runup where the tsunami crossed over an underwater reef. She uses the Portal to posts her commentary, describing the discrepancy. Because the Portal maintains complete information about the "experiment" she just ran, other Portal users can not only see her comments, but view detailed information about the scenario and even run the model again with some slight tweaking of the parameters. A lively discussion ensues, using the Portal's discussion forum. The original modelers become intrigued with the problem and, in response to suggestions from a third research group, make a small change to the model. The NOAA expert reruns her scenario and finds that this time, the results are consistent with what actually happened in 1960.

Without the Portal infrastructure, it is unlikely that the NOAA researcher would be able to run the model in the first place. The discrepancy might remain undetected, the collaborative discussion yielding the new insights would not have taken place, and the model would be less accurate.