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Super computer has Niwa scientists buzzing

Published: 9:42AM Thursday July 22, 2010 Source: ONE News

A new super-computer is set to improve Niwa's ability to forecast extreme weather events in New Zealand.

The $12.7 million IBM computer has about 100 times the power of Niwa's current computer and can supply much more information on future severe weather events such as flooding, as well as greater world issues like climate change.

The computer, known as Fitzroy, can perform 34 trillion calculations a second and that will almost double next year. It's being hailed as the holy grail of forecasting by Niwa scientist Michael Uddstrom.

Uddstrom told TVNZ's Breakfast programme that computers on their own are dumb beasts and it's the software and the science put into them that make them really interesting.

He said Fitzroy will enable Niwa to make advances in the world of simulation and should provide more accurate immediate and long-term forecasts.

"Whether it's the climate in 70 or 100 years time or it's exactly what's going to happen tomorrow," said Uddstrom.

In examining the present, scientists can project into the future and determine what the atmosphere, weather and climate will look like, said Uddstrom.

"By having a much larger computational machine to explore that space we can come up with more confident estimates of what can happen."

He says they must be careful in translating the weather into hazards and for it to be really useful for New Zealand and the economy they must not cry wolf.

"It's the false alarms that cause people to lose interest or faith."

Scientists say Fitzroy can help predict health problems in people, diagnose them and prescribe the right treatment.

"I think we are taking a quantum leap forward in terms of what's available in New Zealand as a resource for scientists," said Uddstrom.