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UK Approves £1.2-Billion Weather-Predicting Supercomputer

(Image credit: David Calvert/Shutterstock)

Two big storms, Ciara and Dennis, passed over the UK and Europe this month, and on Monday, the UK government approved a £1.2-billion ($1.56 billion) budget for what it said will be the world's most powerful weather-predicting supercomputer. Of that budget, £854 million ($1.1 billion) is the contract price for building the supercomputer itself, with the rest of the budget covering investments elsewhere in the weather-predicting program. 

The new budget is understandable, especially in the wake of Ciara and Dennis. In the past, the UK hasn't been subject to extreme weather conditions like other parts of the world, but with climate change taking its toll at an ever-increasing rate, it's possible that will change, and being able to see extreme catastrophes coming would greatly help preparations.

Consequently, the £1.2-billion supercomputer that the UK government aims to build is scheduled to be assembled in quite a short timeframe by supercomputer standards. After a 2022 expected completion date, it will serve a 10-year service time and reach end-of-life in 2032. 

"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," Professor Penny Endersby, chief executive of Met Office, the UK's weather service, said in a statement. "We welcome this planned investment from UK government."

The new supercomputer will replace the Met Office's current trio of Cray XC40 supercomputers. It's expected to bring a six-fold increase in performance at launch. There are plans to increase its launch performance by up to threefold during the second half of its service life. 

Unfortunately, this week's announcement didn't include details on the supercomputer's hardware. We don't know what platform it will be built on or who will supply the CPUs and GPUs. It's possible that it will be based on 64-core AMD Epyc CPUs and Nvidia's upcoming Ampere-based Tesla GPU, similar to the supercomputer being built for the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF).