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Data-powered resilience: How IBM helps simulate climate change

The German Climate Computing Center is now using IBM's data analytics technology to manage the world’s largest cache of climate simulation data.

Translating climate data into actionable insights that can lead to more timely, accurate and reliable forecasts will go a long way in helping communities become more resilient in the face of climate impacts such as extreme weather.

But that's also easier said than done; reliable resilience planning also requires gathering, storing and analyzing huge quantities of data.

Research and prediction for weather, climate and the environment quickly are becoming Big Data challenges, pushing several organizations to seek technology and expertise from incumbent data analytics powers, such as IBM.

The German Climate Computing Center (DKRZ) is the latest example. The organization announced late last week that it is now using technology and services from IBM to manage the world’s largest climate simulation data archive.

Researchers hope to use the company's technology to parse past and potential future climate scenarios in more detail, particularly at elusive regional and local levels.

“The experiments carried out on our system include simulations of the past and future climate on the global scale," Michael Böttinger, deputy head of the Applications Department at the Center, told GreenBiz in an email. "Regional simulations with high resolution models are done in order to study small-scale processes, which cannot be resolved with the relatively coarse climate models.”

The emphasis on more localized data also comes as cities and states around the world mull the viability of enacting resilience measures closer to home, as national-level climate action remains slow going.

In the meantime, climate simulations are being carried out on increasingly powerful supercomputers and generating massive amounts of data, which must be effectively stored and analyzed. DKRZ's archive currently consists of more than 40 petabytes of data and is projected to grow by roughly 75 petabytes annually over the next five years.

IBM claims its Hierarchical Storage Management system, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Energy, is capable of efficiently managing and providing quick access to more than 500 petabytes of data. A single petabyte of data is equal to the storage capacity of around 210,000 DVDs.

The system manages all simulation data and serves as the interface between DKRZ's computing systems and the tape storage library where the climate data is stored. It is capable of providing data access speeds of up to 12 gigabytes per second, which will be upgraded to 18 gigabytes per second later this year, IBM said.

From research to action

Several major climate-focused organizations, such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), rely on DKRZ's archive for a range of research and reporting activities.

IPCC uses it to study and report on the increase in the earth’s temperature and its impact on the climate. One IPCC comparison project, for example, coordinated experiments with climate and Earth system models organized to research and answer questions related to the mechanisms and characteristics of climate change.

DKRZ IBM climate change scenarios
Data garnered from the project was included as a German contribution to last year’s Fifth IPCC Assessment Report. This included information about the role of the carbon cycle in climate change, baselines for past climate patterns and forecasting climate change into the future.

Other organizations making use of the archive include the Max-Planck Institute for Meteorology, the University of Hamburg, the West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use, the Coordinated Energy and Water Cycle Observation Project and the Program For Earth System Modeling.

Some ways they have used the archive includes developing 3D models and visualizations for creating smarter cities and more energy-efficient buildings; generating high-definition models for the formation of clouds and precipitation to improve the accuracy of weather and climate prediction; and measuring the impact of climate change on West Africa, the Mediterranean, Central Europe, Indonesia and other key global regions to determine how to adapt to it.

Böttinger said many applications are making use of the archive to benefit cities and businesses. One important research area at the University of Hamburg deals with developing so-called “microscale” climate models. This could help develop more precise models of how climate change might affect a particular city.

“Climate simulations are also important for various businesses, in particular for insurance companies and agriculture,” Böttinger said.

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