Teraflops for non-flop rain forecast

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By Joydeep Gupta, New Delhi, July 31 : Indian meteorologists have weathered many jokes whenever they failed to accurately forecast monsoon rainfall. Their problem is that they still depend on an old statistical model to forecast rainfall, while their colleagues in most large economies use a dynamic model. Now that is about to change.

Strangely for a world leader in IT, India has so far failed to use a dynamic weather prediction model largely due to lack of computing power. Now a 14.4 teraflop supercomputer worth Rs.5,000 crore (worth over a billion dollars) is being installed at the National Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting in Noida. It would have happened earlier, but there was not enough demand, Prime Minister's Principal Scientific Adviser R. Chidambaram said at a recent Planning Commission meeting.

A teraflop provides a trillion floating point operations per second. The computer in Noida, called GSFT574, will have 28 nodes so that more scientists can use its six processors working at 4.7 GHz.

But will that be enough? Minister of State for Planning, Science and Technology and Earth Sciences Ashwani Kumar does not think so. "India will soon have to move from teraflops to petaflops of computing power," Kumar told IANS. A petaflop provides a thousand trillion floating point operations per second, but would cost Rs 6,000 crore more. "Money will not be a constraint," the minister assured, pointing out that Chinese weather scientists were already working with petaflop-level computers.

Kumar also noted that the Planning Commission had approved the Monsoon Mission 2012-17.

"The Planning Commission has given in-principle approval to a Monsoon Mission during the Twelfth Five Year Plan (2012-17), which will cost Rs 400 crore." That is likely to provide more computing too, and better connect Indian weathermen to their global peers for more accurate forecasts. To gather the data for the computers, five Doppler radars were recently installed in coastal areas and the Indo-Gangetic plains, and Kumar said there would be more till they "extend all over the country". And there would be many more gauges to measure wind and rain.

(Joydeep Gupta can be contacted at [email protected])

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