Government fuels the UK's weather obsession with £97m supercomputer

The government’s plan for a new £97 million weather supercomputer will cement the UK’s position as a world leader in climate prediction, it says.

The supercomputer will be 13 times more powerful than the current system used by the Met Office, and "will have 120,000 times more memory than a top-end smartphone", the government said.

Enabling forecast updates every hour and with the ability to provide very high detail weather information for precise geographical areas, the supercomputer will help the UK to more effectively predict disruptive weather events such as flooding, strong winds, fog and heavy snowfall.

The supercomputer will deliver higher resolution weather models, making it easier to pinpoint small scale, high-impact weather. For example, applying very high resolution (300m) models could better determine the risk and timing of fog over airports.

Scientists will also explore the benefits of adapting the resolution to improve UK winter forecasts months in advance, and assessing the specific regional impacts of climate change such as floods, droughts and heatwaves.

The government says the supercomputer’s sophisticated forecasts are anticipated to "deliver £2 billion of socio-economic benefits to the UK" by enabling better advance preparation and contingency plans to protect peoples’ homes and businesses.

The supercomputer, which will be based at the Met Office and Exeter Science Park, will be able to perform more than 16,000 trillion calculations per second, and, at 140 tonnes, will weigh the equivalent of 11 double decker buses.

As one of the most powerful supercomputers in the world when fully installed, it will also be a catalyst for regional growth in the South West, supporting collaboration and partnerships between science, business and academia, the government said.

Chief secretary to the treasury, Danny Alexander, said: "This £97 million investment is a crucial part of the government’s wider drive to make the UK the best place in the world to do science and research. By bringing world-class technology to the South West, we are also boosting regional investment and expertise, creating a stronger economy and fairer society."

The first phase of the supercomputer will be operational in September 2015 and the system will reach full capacity in 2017.

Earlier this year, as part of a five year deal, the Met Office connected servers from its Exeter headquarters to Heathrow Airport, so that meteorologists can help the airport make decisions based on the most up-to-date weather data.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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