This new supercomputer promises faster and more accurate weather forecasts

New hardware will support hundreds of researchers working on medium- and long-range forecasting.
Written by Daphne Leprince-Ringuet, Contributor

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) is hoping to deliver faster and more accurate weather forecasts, after the organization announced that it has sealed a new four-year deal worth over €80 million ($89 million) with French hi-tech company Atos for some shiny new meteorological equipment. 

Atos, said it will be delivering the key to better forecasts in the form of its latest supercomputer, dubbed BullSequana XH2000, which will quintuple ECMWF's computing power. A pretty impressive feat given that the ECMWF's existing set-up currently operates at 330 trillion floating point operations per second.

Atos said the new device is its most efficient supercomputer, and supports AMD's latest generation of processors, the EPYC Rome. The firm said that BullSequana is entirely water-cooled, which means that it consumes less energy than the current system used by ECMWF.

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Until now, and since 2013, the weather forecasting organization has been using a Cray XC40 supercomputer, which is also employed by the Met Office in the UK

BullSequana XH2000 is expected to run weather predictions faster and better than its predecessor. Florence Rabier, director general at ECMWF said: "We will now be able to run higher resolution forecasts in under an hour, meaning better information will be shared with our member states even faster."

Atos's technology will also help to improve the ECMWF's "ensemble prediction" system (EPS). The program, introduced in 1992, is a way to gauge how accurate a specific weather forecast is. 

Instead of delivering only one forecast, the EPS produces 51 predictions, which all include slight variations in the initial weather conditions. In other words, the system gives users a range of possible scenarios, as well as the likelihood of their occurrence.

For example, the program could provide a government with an estimate of the likelihood of severe flooding in certain parts of the country. Currently, the EPS's 15-day forecasts have a resolution of 18km; but with BullSequana, the ECMWF is hoping that it can run the system at a resolution of 10km. 

"As the effects of climate change and severe weather are increasingly felt, individuals and societies need ever greater amounts of information to ensure they are prepared," said Günther Tschabuschnig, who sits on the ECMWF technical advisory committee. 

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Last year, the French company signed another four-year deal worth €42 million ($47 million) with French national meteorological service Meteo-France, and cited similar objectives – to multiply the weather forecaster's computing power by five. 

Atos also secured partnerships with the German Climate Computing Centre, the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute and the Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, among others. BullSequana XH2000 will be delivered to the ECMWF data centre in Bologna, Italy, in 2020 and will start operating in 2021. 

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