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Met Office gets a decade of funding to update supercomputers

As the UK goes through another storm battering, the Met Office has received a £1.2bn investment to power the next decade of weather forecasts

To tie in with its Year of Climate Action initiative, the government has said that £1.2bn is being invested in a new supercomputer for the Met Office.

Business and energy secretary and COP26 (2020 United Nations Climate Change Conference) president, Alok Sharma, said: “Over the past 30 years, new technologies have meant more accurate weather forecasting, with storms being predicted up to five days in advance.”

The Met Office’s new supercomputer will be able to handle more than 215 billion weather observations from all over the world everyday. According to the Met Office, such processing will enable it to help airlines save fuel by using the wind to help carry them to their destination, helping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) said the new supercomputer would deliver multibillion-pound benefits for the UK over the next 10 years. According to BEIS, the UK could receive up to £19 worth of economic benefits for every pound spent. 

The current Met Office Cray supercomputers reach their end of life in late 2022, and the investment will replace the Cray systems over a 10-year period from 2022 to 2032.

The first phase of the new supercomputer will increase the Met Office’s computing capacity by sixfold. The Met Office said it will aim to deliver at least a further three times increase in supercomputing capacity for years six to 10.

As a result of the power of the new system, the Met office said, four-day weather forecasts will be as accurate today as one-day forecasts were 30 years’ ago.

Penny Endersby, Met Office chief executive, said: “This investment will ultimately provide earlier, more accurate warning of severe weather, the information needed to build a more resilient world in a changing climate, and help support the transition to a low-carbon economy across the UK.

“It will help the UK to continue to lead the field in weather and climate science and services, working collaboratively to ensure that the benefits of our work help government, the public and industry make better decisions to stay safe and thrive.”

Ted Shepherd, chair of the Science Review Group, said: “The improved processing power will deliver a step-change in weather forecasting and climate modelling capability for the UK, such as the further development of the Earth Systems Mode.

“Improved daily to seasonal forecasts and longer-term climate projections will equip society with a greater ability to proactively protect itself against the adverse impacts of climate change.”

Weather forecasts involve both complex supercomputing calculations and the ability to link information from different sources to make the information contextually aware.

Last year, Charles Ewen, director of technology at the Met Office, told Computer Weekly that 2TB [terabytes] of operational weather data is being produced every hour, which is the equivalent of streaming around 640 high-definition video streams.

“Managing scale is a constant challenge,” he said. “And while we’re dealing with scale in practical terms, we’ve also got to manage scale in terms of trying to do big things to release value. That often means diverting people away from day-to-day cabling concerns and towards areas that are going to deliver the biggest bang for buck in the short term.”

Read more about the tech behind weather forecasts

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