Supercomputer could improve Dutch weather predictions

Dutch weather forecasters are calling on super computers to improve their predictions.

The system is expected to offer the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI) more opportunities to issue early warnings in cases of extreme weather. It also enhances KNMI’s capabilities for climate research.

Dick Fens, Bull’s managing director for the Netherlands, said: ‘The computer will provide KNMI with enough power to accurately predict weather up to 24 hours in advance using complex algorithms, which are able to factor in a vast number of variables.’

Vast amounts of raw meteorological and oceanographical data, which would overwhelm a less powerful machine, will be put into the computer.

The Bull solution consists of 396 bullx B500 compute nodes, equipped with Intel Xeon Series 5600 processors, for a total of 4,752 cores and 9.5TB memory, and delivering a peak performance of 58.2Tflop/s. Frits Brouwer, a KNMI director, believes that the new system will be up to 40 times more powerful than its predecessor.

It is claimed that one of the criteria for the new supercomputer has been the ability of the manufacturer to enhance its power efficiency. Aside from power-efficient components incorporated in the compute nodes, such as ultra capacitors and low-voltage power supplies, Bull also proposed the ‘Bull Cool Cabinets’. These racks are equipped with special water-cooled doors, resulting in a much more efficient power-consumption factor than cooling by means of traditional air conditioning.

The technology will make KNMI one of the best-performing and most environmentally friendly weather-data centres in Europe.

It is needed because the old system is out of date and the country’s low-lying terrain means it is at great risk of flooding during certain weather events.

‘The flooding disaster the Netherlands experienced in 1953, which killed 1,836 people, occurred because the warnings did not come early enough,’ said Fens. ’An advanced weather-warning system is vital in a country as flat as the Netherlands.’

Ian Candy, a senior lecturer in physical geography at Royal Holloway University of London, added: ‘As low-pressure zones move south through the southern North Sea they drag storm surges with them. The straits of Dover act as a bottleneck and the low-lying coastal regions of the southern North Sea can become flooded.’

IPCC said earlier in 2011: ‘Ensemble modelling of storm surges and tidal levels in shelf seas, particularly for the Baltic and southern North Sea, indicate fewer but more extreme surge events under some SRES emissions scenarios.’

Since 1850, a sea-level rise of approximately 1.5mm has been observed at the world’s longest-running sea-level measuring centre in Amsterdam.