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Better weather on the way with BOM supercomputer

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), alongside the CSIRO, is on the hunt for a supercomputer to help improve weather forecasting and to map the effects of global warming.
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Written by Alex Serpo on

The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), alongside the CSIRO, is on the hunt for a supercomputer to help improve weather forecasting and to map the effects of global warming.

The BOM has put out a request for tender for the supercomputer and is looking for a machine with three to six teraflops of performance. Philip Tannenbaum, who will be responsible for the supercomputer upgrade at the BOM, said it will be five to six times as powerful as the existing system.

Tannenbaum said that the system will create more accurate weather reports for the public: "Early experiences at the research level say we should pick up one to two days of accuracy," he noted.

The Bureau's current NEC SX-6 supercomputer. Image includes Dr Bill Bourke, Philip Tannenbaum and Dr Michael Naughton.

Credit: The Bureau of Meteorology

Tannenbaum said the BOM is now familiar with the process of supercomputer upgrades.

"We have put in quite a number supercomputers over the years at the Bureau, it's become something of a routine thing — it's a bit like heart surgery, once you get good at it, it isn't a challenge anymore."

As well as improved weather predictions, the BOM supercomputer will help improve the climate modelling performed by CSIRO researchers.

"Today the holy grail [of climate science] is to try and model the entire world, and have a higher resolution model for the area you are in, that is referred to as earth systems modelling," Tannenbaum said.

He hopes that the BOM supercomputer upgrade will give Australian researchers a chance to make a significant contribution to global climate science.

"In climate science a supercomputer is a basic as a hammer would be for a carpenter... with a better supercomputer you can do better science."

However, the supercomputer will remain hamstrung by power issues.

"The limitation on the upgrade is based on how much electricity we can make available for [the supercomputer]," Tannenbaum said, noting that the BOM only have 200 [kilowatts] available to supply the system.

The tender closes on 29 May, 2008.

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