Weather Forecasting Needs More Computing Power
September 2, 2011

Weather Forecasting Needs More Computing Power


Scientists think that they will be able to predict the weather down to an area of a few kilometers accurately, but they need more computing power in order to calculate the climate models.

According to Reuters, a climate model is a computer-based version of the Earth´s climate system, based on physics and complex equations. These models can be used for weather forecasting, understanding the climate and projecting climate change.

Alan Thorpe, director general of the UK-based European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) told Reuters, “If we step forward 20 to 40 years into the future of climate science, it is conceivable we can have climate models down to a scale of a few kilometers´ resolution”

According to Thorpe, some climate models are now nearing 100 km resolution, compared to 300 km 10 to 15 years ago. He says, “We are running global weather picture models at a 16 km resolution already so we have the science and the models to reduce the problem of high resolution but we need the computer power to do it.”

Thorpe told Reuters that it would cost up to 324 million dollars to buy a top-end supercomputer, about 7 percent of the UK´s yearly science budget. Thorpe said, “The impact of climate change needs to be seen as sufficiently important to society to devote this level of resource to it.”

Some of the more dramatic impacts that ECMWF scientists are studying are what they call tipping points. These are dramatic events that happen when the climate suddenly changes, such as the withdrawal of Arctic summer sea ice or the loss or Amazonian rain forests. These tipping points can take decades to reverse, if they can be reversed.

According to Thorpe, “Inevitably, those are the aspects of the system we have to worry about most because they are not linear behavior. How many of those there are is still an open question.”


Inage Caption: Katia was a tropical storm gathering energy over the Atlantic Ocean when one of the Expedition 28 crew took this photo on Aug. 31, 2011, from aboard the International Space Station. The picture, taken with a 12-mm focal length, was captured at 14:09:01 GMT. Later in the day Katia was upgraded to hurricane status. Two Russian spacecraft -- a Progress and a Soyuz --can be seen parked at the orbital outpost on the left side of the frame. Credit: NASA


On the Net: