New Canadian Weather Computer Technology

3 Mar ’05

The Globe reports on new computing technology now being deployed by Environment Canada to aid in weather forecasting.  The new technology consists of both a new IBM supercomputer and a new processing technology.  Quotes:

To help improve the accuracy of its forecasts, the Meteorological Service of Canada plans to start using a new processing technology called 4DVAR later this month. It stands for four-dimensional variational data assimilation, and literally adds an extra dimension — time — to the mathematical models of the atmosphere that meteorologists use to prepare forecasts.

The 4DVAR system can crunch weather data, including temperature, wind and precipitation, at the moment it is observed by satellite, radar, ground stations and even aircraft, to come up with a picture of the current weather situation and predictions of what could develop. That kind of complexity requires massive computing power, which is one of the factors that prevented the previous 3DVAR system from handling the data in real-time.

To process 4DVAR’s data as it streams in, Environment Canada is using a new IBM supercomputer appropriately named Azur, French for the blue colour of a clear sky. It’s leased at a cost of $42-million on a five-year contract, and it took installers and software engineers a year to set it up and get it ready for 4DVAR.

Comprised of 936 individual processors in 30 servers connected together, Azur sits in a secure room at the Canadian Meteorological Centre’s headquarters in the Montreal suburb of Dorval, Que. The supercomputer occupies an area about the size two tennis courts and is so big it has its own "weather pattern" — in winter, the supercomputer’s thermal energy is used to heat the five-storey building.

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