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New Zealand is to become home to the southern hemisphere’s most powerful climate change modelling system.
Niwa (The National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research) is to buy a Power 575 Supercomputer from IBM. Including supporting infrastructure, the total bill will be $12.7 million.
While the sticker price seems a bit of a shocker at a time when low-cost blade server systems (built from scores of low-cost Wintel servers) are challenging olde world supercomputers, “The United Kingdom Met Office estimated the benefit to cost ratio of their similar supercomputer was nine times that of the total cost of ownership, based solely on its capability to improve flood forecast lead times,” said Niwa chief executive John Morgan.
Claims from damage caused by weather events in July and August last year are estimated at $68 million, according to the Insurance Council of New Zealand, and the 2004 Central North Island floods alone resulted in insurance claims of more than $400 million.
“Industries that are climate-sensitive - such as the energy sector, farming, horticulture and tourism - will benefit directly from Niwa’s ability to make more accurate and more specific forecasts. The new supercomputer will also allow Niwa to improve early warnings of the effects of severe events, such as flooding and storm surges,” said Mr Morgan.
The new toy should be able to run weather simulations far faster than Niwa’s current kit, a Cray T3E.
Hazards forecasting models that took 80 minutes to complete on 40% of the previous supercomputer will now take eight minutes on about 4% of the new system – allowing more complex and comprehensive forecasting models to be developed.
And where the Cray can only model humans’ effect on the climate out a few decades, the new system will - with 100 times the computational power - be able to model our environment in chunks spanning hundreds of years.
Niwa says the Power 575 will be relatively kind to the world it models. A recent survey by Green500.org found that IBM supercomputers are the most energy-efficient in the world.
The new supercomputer - which will include 600 terabytes (600,000 gigabytes of onboard storage) - will be new system will be cooled, in part, by a system that uses sea water from Evans Bay, adjacent to Niwa’s facility in Wellington. This arrangement will help cut the 575’s power demands by 40%, saving the equivalent of 50 households of electricity, says Niwa.