November 1, 2023
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Scientists have proposed a network of supercomputing centers that would focus on local climate impacts.
Scientists have used computer models to predict the implications of global warming for more than five decades. As climate change intensifies, these increasingly accurate models require more and more computing power. For a decade, the best simulations have been able to predict the effects of climate change in an area of 25 square kilometers. Now, a new modeling project could adjust the resolution to one kilometer, helping policymakers and urban planners detect the neighborhoods (or even individual buildings) most vulnerable to extreme weather events.
“Climate (science) has always had a computing problem,” says Bjorn Stevens, director of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Meteorology. However, recent technological advances, such as reducing the size of transistors, have made computers much more capable, Stevens says. He and a group of climatologists and scientists from other disciplines are developing a network of global supercomputing centers called Earth Visualization Engines, or EVE, which they hope to complete within a decade. These centers would work together running climate models, interpreted using machine learning algorithms, on supercomputers to predict local climate changes and severe weather events.
This international push, which organizers have called “the CERN of climate science,” could help municipalities mitigate disasters, say supporters who plan to present the proposal at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference in November. . Higher resolution models could show how wind shear affects certain buildings, where flooding could reach, or which areas are most vulnerable to damage. These details could inform actions taken before dangerous events like heat waves, hurricanes or droughts, helping officials determine when and where to save water, set up cooling centers or shore up infrastructure.
Such detailed modeling may be made possible by a recent technological breakthrough: a superchip called Grace Hopper, named after the pioneering computer scientist and developed by computer technology company Nvidia. After ten years of development, it could be used to process models up to six times faster than other superchips while using less power, says Dion Harris, head of marketing for Nvidia’s accelerated data center projects.
As EVE progresses, Stevens and other planners plan to make the data and models publicly available. Doing so should be prioritized, especially in developing countries most affected by the climate crisis, before deploying expensive new computing technologies, says Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, which is not involved in EVE.
“There is a huge amount of useful climate information that is not accessible,” says Schmidt. Climate modelers are “trying to make the most of information, disseminate it, and help people make better decisions for adaptation.”