UK commits £1.2bn for weather predicting supercomputer

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The UK Government said it plans to invest £1.2bn in a new supercomputer to predict weather patterns.

The announcement comes as the UK begins the clean-up operation in the wake of Storm Dennis over the weekend.

Predicting severe weather and impacts of climate change will be faster and accurate than ever before, the Government said.

The state-of-the-art supercomputer investment was confirmed by Business and Energy Secretary and COP26 President Alok Sharma confirmed.

The new supercomputer is expected to be the world’s most advanced dedicated to weather and climate. Data will be used to help more accurately predict storms; select the most suitable locations for flood defences; and predict changes to the global climate.

Met Office supercomputer

The new supercomputer, to be managed by the Met Office, will also be used to help ensure communities can be better prepared for weather disruption, including through:

  • More sophisticated rainfall predictions, helping the Environment Agency rapidly deploy mobile flood defences
  • Better forecasting at airports so they can plan for potential disruption; and
  • More detailed information for the energy sector to help them mitigate against potential energy blackouts and surges

Year of Climate Action

With the government announcing its Year of Climate Action, the news further demonstrates the UK is leading by example ahead of hosting UN climate conference COP26, where the world will meet to agree more ambitious action.

“Over the last 30 years, new technologies have meant more accurate weather forecasting, with storms being predicted up to five days in advance”, Sharma said.

“Come rain or shine, our significant investment for a new supercomputer will further speed up weather predictions; helping people be more prepared for weather disruption from planning travel journeys to deploying flood defences.

“The new supercomputer will also strengthen the UK’s supercomputing and data technology capabilities; driving forward innovation and growing world-class skills across supercomputing, data science, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Professor 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.

UK lead

“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.

“We welcome this planned investment from UK Government.”

Chair of the Science Review Group Professor Ted Shepherd said: “The agreement to upgrade the Met Office high performance computer is welcome news.

“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 Model, which involves collaboration with the many UKRI-NERC funded research centres.

“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.

The Met Office is at the forefront of supercomputing, using its current technology to drive advances in environmental forecasting.

As a result, detailed weather predictions for the UK now take place every hour instead of every three hours. This provides crucial and timely updates when extreme weather is approaching.

The benefit of this has been felt recently; major storms Ciara and Dennis, and the ‘Beast from the East’ in 2018, were forecast five days in advance. This enabled local councils and emergency services to prepare and instigate resilience plans.

Similarly, the Environment Agency has used the Met Office’s latest UK climate projections to set out potential future flooding scenarios and how funding can be best allocated.

UK supercomputer breakthroughs

Today, the government also announced £30 million investment for advanced supercomputing services. The will provide researchers with access to the latest technology and expert software engineers.

It will also help speed up scientific breakthroughs like developing ‘food fingerprinting’ to detect chemical contaminants in food; and improving drug design.

The funding will support seven High Performance Computing (HPC) services run by universities from across the UK. They include Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Edinburgh, and Durham University.

The services will provide researchers with invaluable access to powerful systems to support ground-breaking work in areas from Artificial Intelligence, energy storage and supply, and therapeutic drug design, as well as boosting the skills of UK scientists.

UK Government Minister for Scotland Douglas Ross said: “The UK Government £30 million investment in Edinburgh’s supercomputers helps keep our capital at the forefront of cutting edge technology.

“The University of Edinburgh facility will benefit scientists from across the UK as they are given the opportunity to use this new technology.

“This additional funding builds on the work of the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal which is creating world-leading hubs for AI research.

He addd that the UK Government is committed to combatting the impact of climate change. It’ll create thousands of jobs and ensure that UK businesses and services are first to benefit from the latest innovations.