Canada Meteorological Center Taps Supercomputer for Advanced Forecasting

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It’s been said that weather “informs the Canadian psyche as much as hockey or the maple leaf.”

Whether Canadians are planning out their morning commutes for back to school, or dreaming about a family holiday for Thanksgiving, we all make our decisions based on what’s happening outside.

Certainly, timely information on the weather is increasingly critical in today’s context of climate change, with growing storms, floods, air quality alerts, droughts, accelerated warming in the Arctic and changing weather patterns.

The Canadian Centre for Meteorological and Environmental Prediction (CCMEP), part of Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC), is the nerve centre for producing the weather forecasts Canadians depend on. On the job 24/7/365, this operational centre in the Province of Quebec uses massive amounts of data and complex simulation programs developed in-house by the Science & Technology team to model the atmosphere around the globe and calculate how it will change over time.

Shared Services Canada (SSC) manages and administers the solution, IT network and related computer systems and middleware, and the telecommunications system upon which the weather program depends. CCMEP also works in collaboration with the science and technology team that provides scientific enhancements to the models.

Helping SSC do this important job is a state-of-the-art facility and supercomputing solution designed, built and hosted by IBM Canada and partner, Aptum, which provides the associated data centre facilities.

This robust, secure information technology infrastructure provides ECCC with the latest technology and computing capacity to deliver more accurate weather, water and climate services to Canadians. Meteorological forecasters at the CCMEP monitor and analyze the weather simulations around the clock. They work closely with SSC and, if a problem is detected, they join forces to raise the alarm and coordinate the response.

For example, longer lead times can make a critical difference in emergency response. In early January 2018, a change in the weather pattern allowed Arctic air to flow southward. The simulations generated by the new solution played an important role in preparing Canadians for the unusually cold temperatures. Information from ECCC enabled New Brunswick Hydro, for example, to pre-position crews to react to local impacts, such as downed power lines.

Less than two months after going into production, ECCC implemented its first innovation on the new solution, becoming  the first weather centre in the world to implement and incorporate a global model coupled with atmosphere, ocean and ice data into its real-time operational production suite. They also integrated a global ocean wave prediction system.

Other government departments also benefit from the solution’s output, including Health Canada for the Air Quality Health Index program and associated alerts, Fisheries and Oceans for ocean modelling, and Public Safety Canada to support environmental emergency prevention and response.

The work SSC and ECC are doing, together with all their partners, delivers results approximately four times faster than the previous system. It is sound science fueled by innovative technology. This project is having a valuable impact on almost every sector of the economy, including health sciences, environmental management, agriculture and transportation.

Most importantly, it helps protect Canadians’ homes and businesses, keeps them safe and secure, and helps them plan their day-to-day activities.

Carol Hopkins, Director-General, Integrated HPC Management at Shared Services Canada, contributed to this story.

IBM Canada Technical Leader, Cognitive, HPC, AI

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