Severe winter weather experienced in the UK over the last couple of years reduced the UK’s GDP by 0.5%, and resultant travel disruption cost the UK economy £280 million per day (link to report). The weather has a huge impact on our lives, affecting transport, agriculture, energy use and leisure.
The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), the Met Office and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), have together embarked on a project to design and build a next-generation weather forecasting model for the UK that will exploit advanced ultra-fast supercomputers and provide a boost to the effectiveness of forecasts that can not only save money, but also save lives.
By the end of the decade, scientists will be using supercomputers that are thousands of times faster than any of today’s systems. Known as ‘exascale’ supercomputers they will contain millions of processors capable of performing a million trillion calculations per second. Harnessing the power of these computers for weather and climate prediction could mean much more accurate forecasts that will help us to live more easily with episodes of severe weather and also to adapt to climate change, maintaining UK leadership in environmental prediction.
This research will be one of the first major projects to benefit from STFC’s new future software research facility at its Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire. This centre was announced in March this year following £37.5m investment by the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) into High Performance Computing (HPC) at Daresbury as part of its UK e-infrastructure initiative. It forms one of the world’s foremost centres in software development and is host the UK’s most powerful supercomputer, Blue Joule.
Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts said: "Supercomputers are fundamental to modern research, in particular very complex areas like weather forecasting. This project will harness the expertise of the UK's excellent research base to ensure we remain world-leading in climate science."
Andy Brown, Head of Foundation Science at the Met Office, said “The Met Office is at the forefront of scientific developments in weather forecasting and its forecasts are ranked in the top two national met services in the world. This project between the Met Office, STFC and NERC will ensure that the UK continues to benefit from the best science and advice available.”
Associate Director of STFC’s Computational Science and Engineering Department, Dr Mike Ashworth said: “Ever more accurate prediction capabilities will help the UK to be more aware, and consequently more prepared, for severe weather impacts in the future. There are many challenges to overcome, the main issue being that the models used to simulate the atmosphere today would be unable to take advantage of the processing power of the ultra-fast computers available within the next few years. We are working together to design and develop a next-generation computer program that will do the key job of simulating the winds, temperature and pressure. This, when combined with other processes such as cloud formation, will allow us to simulate the changing weather conditions.”
It is anticipated that the new code will, in time, replace the dynamical core of the Met Office’s Unified Model (UM), the principal UK tool for weather and climate prediction, also used by national weather services around the world including Australia, South Korea, Norway, India, New Zealand and South Africa.
Professor Stephen Mobbs, Director of NERC’s National Centre for Atmospheric Science, said: “Tomorrow's "exascale" computers represent a huge opportunity and a huge challenge for the science of weather forecasting. The opportunity to produce forecast detail down to the scales which affect specific human activities are beckoning. For instance, details on the scales of transport infrastructure –roads, rail, etc – or individual towns will be resolvable. At the same time, the computer software challenges of effectively using millions of processors open up new areas of computer science. There are also a vast range of physical processes which affect the weather on these fine scales, stretching our understanding of the atmosphere itself and our ability to represent it within models.”
Notes to editors
Image: STFC’s Dr Mike Ashworth and Blue Joule at Daresbury, the UK’s most powerful supercomputer.
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The Science and Technology Facilities Council is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and tackling some of the most significant challenges facing society such as meeting our future energy needs, monitoring and understanding climate change, and global security.
The Council has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC operates or hosts world class experimental facilities including:
• in the UK; ISIS pulsed neutron source, the Central Laser Facility, and LOFAR. STFC is also the majority shareholder in Diamond Light Source Ltd.
• overseas; telescopes on La Palma and Hawaii
It enables UK researchers to access leading international science facilities by funding membership of international bodies including European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN), the Institut Laue Langevin (ILL), European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) and the European Southern Observatory (ESO).
STFC is one of seven publicly-funded research councils. It is an independent, non-departmental public body of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS).
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About the Met Office
The Met Office is the UK’s National Weather Service, providing 24x7 world-renowned scientific excellence in weather, climate and environmental forecasts and severe weather warnings for the protection of life and property.
The Met Office Unified Model, is the numerical modelling system developed and used at the Met Office. It is 'seamless' in that different configurations of the same model are used across all time and space scales. The different configurations are each designed to best represent the processes which have most influence on the timescale of interest. For example, for accurate climate predictions the use of a coupled ocean model is essential, while for short-range weather forecasting a higher resolution atmospheric model may be more beneficial than running a costly ocean component.
The Met Office Unified Model is available for external use under licence. A number of research organisations and national meteorological services use the Unified Model in collaboration with the Met Office to undertake basic atmospheric process research, produce forecasts, develop the Unified Model code and build and evaluate Earth System Models.
The Natural Environment Research Council is the UK's main agency for funding and managing world-class research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. It coordinates some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, food security, environmental influences on human health, and the genetic make-up of life on earth. NERC receives around £300 million a year from the government's science budget, which it uses to fund research and training in universities and its own research centres. www.nerc.ac.uk (link opens in a new window).