HPC solutions unlocking new climate and weather research capabilities

Predicting the weather is so difficult that the hackneyed joke that weather forecasters are the only people who can be wrong all the time and still make a living had a grain of truth not all that long ago. This changed years ago however, as advances in meteorological studies and high-performance computing systems have allowed weather researchers to make much more accurate predictions and gain a better understanding of why weather patterns change direction or intensity. As a result, even when the local weather station is wrong, people can understand what happened and why the prediction was reasonable in the first place. Advances in high-performance computing have also had significant impacts in climate research, leading to considerable advances in the ability to assess climate change impacts at a regional scale.

HPC systems and climate research
Climate studies often use similar types of simulations to the ones used in weather forecasting, but with an emphasis on the interactions and feedbacks in the entire earth’s system.  HPC solutions have enabled meteorologists to, for example, simulate how weather patterns will move over the course of several hours or days and predict the most likely outcomes with great precision. Climate models simulate the earth’s system for seasonal, decadal and centennial projections.   This allows researchers to identify long-term weather patterns, predict the likelihood of extreme storms and help government organizations prepare for climate change.

The complexity of this research is clear in the recent UPSCALE project. Led by the U.K. Met Office, the National Centre for Atmospheric Science (NCAS) and the University of Reading, UPSCALE aims to take the high resolution weather models used to predict conditions for six-day periods and apply them to 25 years. This type of simulation could offer incredible insight into future climate patterns, but also required HPC capabilities that were out of the reach of the U.K.-based organizations. However, the group heading the research looked to the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe, which gave the UPSCALE group access to the Cray XE6 supercomputer nicknamed “Hermit” at HLRS in Stuttgart, Germany, making the advanced high-resolution simulations possible.

Cray and climate research
Cray is among the leading supercomputing vendors when it comes to supporting climate research. Understanding how the global climate is changing and what organizations can do to prepare is critical to humanity’s future and Cray is playing a leadership role in helping governments and research centers understand extreme weather and climate patterns. Besides the UPSCALE project, Cray is also enabling extreme weather event studies and hurricane modeling efforts, among other prominent projects.

Jay Gould, HPCS Product Marketing Manager