Wed, Jul 11, 2012 - Page 4 News List

CWB looks to upgrade forecasting capabilities

UPGRADE:The new technology will allow self-developed ‘grid computing’ that analyzes weather patterns in small geographic areas to deliver more timely weather data

Staff writer, with CNA

The Central Weather Bureau (CWB) expects to greatly improve its ability to predict extreme weather conditions over the next few years by drawing on the power of the Japanese K computer, until recently the world’s No. 1 supercomputer.

The bureau has ordered the -follow-up model to the K computer — the PrimeHPC FX10 system — which is expected to enhance the speed and accuracy of its forecasts by a factor of 100, bureau officials said in interviews last week.

“The system will significantly boost our ability to predict typhoon developments, precipitation levels and even earthquakes,” bureau Weather Forecast Center director Cheng Ming-dean (鄭明典) said.

The upgrade is crucial because of the nation’s geographical location on the Pacific Ring of Fire in the West Pacific Ocean, which leaves it vulnerable to tropical storms and earthquakes, Cheng said.

The first ever purchase of a PrimeHPC FX10 system by a customer outside Japan will cost the bureau NT$500 million (US$16.7 million). It will be delivered over three years starting later this year.

According to system developer Fujitsu Ltd, the customized supercomputer is scheduled to realize its peak performance of at least 1 petaflops — a computing power of 1 quadrillion floating-point operations per second — by the end of 2014.

That speed is related to the original -system’s name, which is -pronounced “kei” in Japanese and means 10 quadrillion.

The K computer was the world’s fastest supercomputer from June last year until last month, when it was overtaken by IBM’s Sequoia.

The new system’s speed will enable the nation’s weather forecasters to simultaneously run more than 20 weather patterns comprising large numbers of variables, bureau Meteorological Information Center director Shen Hsiang--hsiung said.

“It’s like operating a factory with 100 times as many assembly lines,” Shen said.

The system currently used by the bureau — a NT$100 million system brought in from the US six years ago — runs at a speed of 14 teraflops, slower than the nation’s most powerful supercomputer, the Formosa 5, which operates at 89.9 teraflops.

One petaflop equals 1,000 teraflops.

Cheng said the introduction of cutting-edge technology was necessary to help the bureau step up its ability to forecast extreme weather, which has become more frequent in recent years because of climate change.

Cheng said the new supercomputer would also facilitate meteorology research initiatives, including the trial of self-developed “grid computing” that analyzes weather patterns in small geographic areas to deliver more timely weather information.

“That could help us develop more software and run it faster to provide real-time, customized information services,” Cheng said.

An integrated service making use of different computer programs would be useful because the nation’s diverse terrain adds to the uncertainty when severe weather occurs, increasing the challenges forecasters face, he said.

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