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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 October, 2003, 15:48 GMT 16:48 UK
Earth Simulator delights scientists
By Alex Kirby
BBC News Online environment correspondent

Car caught in hurricane   BBC
Hurricane prediction should be better
A new era in the accuracy of climate prediction has come closer with the presentation of the first results from the largest supercomputer in the world.

The Earth Simulator, housed in Japan, has produced what scientists are calling "very exciting" information.

It is being presented at a three-day climate workshop in Cambridge, UK.

The computer's results hold out the prospect of better predictions of the likelihood of increasing hurricanes, prolonged heavy rain, and heatwaves.

The Earth Simulator, which began work in March 2002, is the world's biggest and fastest supercomputer, and has the job of solving some of the thorniest problems facing the Earth in the decades ahead.

It is ten times more powerful than anything available at the moment to scientists in the UK. The simulator consists of 640 nodes (the equivalent of individual computers) linked together by 83,000 high-speed cables: the building which houses it has a floor space the size of four tennis courts.

New levels of accuracy

One of the organisations behind the Cambridge workshop is the UK's National Institute for Environmental eScience (NIEeS), hosted by the university's Centre for Mathematical Sciences.

Earth from space   AP
The computer simulates climate and plate tectonics
The other is the Natural Environment Research Council's Centres for Atmospheric Science (NCAS).

Professor Julia Slingo, director of the NCAS Centre for Global Atmospheric Modelling, said: "These results are very exciting.

"They show that, for the first time, our climate models can be run at resolutions capable of capturing severe weather events such as intense depressions, hurricanes and major rainstorms.

"This means that we potentially have the capability to predict whether storms like Hurricane Isabel will be on the increase in future.

"Importantly for the UK, we will be able to predict with more confidence increases in damaging storms and extremes of temperature, and what their regional impacts will be.

Wide capabilities

"They will help us to prioritise our investment in devising strategies to adapt to climate change, for example the specification of railway lines to deal with the extreme heat experienced this summer, or storm drains to cope with extreme rainfall such as we experienced in the autumn of 2000."

UK train in heat   AP
Fewer tracks may buckle in heatwaves
The workshop is being held to push forward the development of a programme of Earth system modelling. This will include all aspects of modelling the atmosphere, oceans and ice caps through to the way they affect forests and marine life and are affected by them.

The programme deals with timescales from single seasons to several millennia, and tackles problems including global warming and the transition into and out of ice ages.

It also covers abrupt climate change such as a shutdown of the thermohaline circulation, the exchange of warm and cold water in the world's oceans which does so much to drive global weather systems.

Something for everyone

The workshop organisers say e-science technologies (using the internet for scientific research and exchanging information) are central to its success, because much of the work being presented involves analysing huge datasets derived from computer models using platforms like the Earth Simulator.

One, Dr Emily Shuckburgh, said: "This workshop will be the first of its kind bringing together experts from the field to present Earth system modelling and discuss the first results from the Earth Simulator.

"It will provide unprecedented insight into the global climate, which will help scientists in all environmental fields."

Japanese supercomputer simulates Earth
26 Apr 02  |  Science/Nature

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