Three weather, climate supercomputers sync up

Three weather, climate supercomputers sync up

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's planned Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) got a new member this week when the National Weather Service synchronized a trio of IBM Corp. eServer clustered supercomputers.

The Red, White and Blue trio run high-resolution models of hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and winter storms, tripling NWS' capability from 450 billion floating-point operations per second to 1.3 TFLOPS, according to an announcement from NWS director David L. Johnson.

NOAA acquired the supercomputing power under a $180 million, nine-year contract with IBM. White (the backup system)operates at a NASA facility in Fairmont, W.Va.; Red and Blue operate at an IBM facility in Gaithersburg, Md.

Altogether, White and Blue have 1,408 1.7-GHz Power4 processors linked by a proprietary IBM interconnect fabric, said Kevin Cooley, director of central operations and CIO at NWS' Centers for Environmental Prediction in Camp Springs, Md.

A dedicated, dual OC-3 WAN connects the two sites at 155 Mbps, and NWS soon will 'bump it up to Gigabit Ethernet,' Cooley said.

The weather modeling software, integrated by NWS' environmental modeling center with multiple collaborators from other agencies and academia, 'must consistently and reliably function at a very large scale,' he said. 'There's lots of systems engineering involved with thousands of processors.'

Many agencies and private concerns receive the data processed by Red, White and Blue. 'We have tons of satellite data that we calibrate in the models as quickly as possible,' Cooley said. NOAA and NASA collaborate on the data with the Defense Department's Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation.

Along with the often-refreshed data flows, which are the fundamental basis of all U.S. weather forecasting, the center provides what Cooley called 'model guidance for the future state of the oceans and the atmosphere in an hour, three hours, 18 hours or seven days. A tremendous number of people depend on it on a day-to-day basis.' He described the output as essentially 'very complex spreadsheets.'

Under a long-term partnership with IBM, NWS is upgrading its high-end hardware every 18 to 24 months, Cooley said.

NOAA and other U.S. officials will promote GEOSS as a worldwide effort next week at an international conference in Brussels, Belgium, with more than 60 nations represented.

Among the eventual benefits NOAA expects from GEOSS, in addition to worldwide tsunami warnings:

  • Forecasts of next winter's weather, months in advance

  • More effective monitoring of forest fires and air quality effects in near-real time

  • Agricultural crop yield forecasts

  • Predictions of when and where malaria, West Nile virus, SARS and other diseases will likely strike, based on climatic conditions.

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