NOAA 2002-069
Contact: Carmeyia Gillis
NOAA News Releases 2002
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The Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that it has awarded a contract to lease a new supercomputer from International Business Machines (IBM). The supercomputer's increased processing capabilities will enable NOAA to significantly improve weather, flood, ocean, and climate forecasts for the country.

The nine-year, $224.4 million contract, awarded to IBM Corporation of Bethesda, Md., was signed today and is contingent on the availability of funding. The nine-year contract contains a three-year base period and two three-year options, plus options for a backup system.

The new high-performance computing system uses a highly parallel computer architecture with 2,752 processors. This improved performance will allow the NOAA National Weather Service's National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) in Camp Springs, Md., to operate more sophisticated models of the atmosphere and oceans to improve weather, flood, ocean, and climate forecasts.

Over the first three years of the contract, the new IBM supercomputer will, on average, provide 4.9 times the computational power of the current system. It will undergo incremental upgrades reaching 48 times the computational power of the current computer by October 2009.

"Accurate weather forecasting is important for the protection of our citizens and the economic well being of our nation," said Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, Jr., U.S. Navy (ret.) Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator. "We have done much to improve forecast accuracy in recent years, and know that with increased computational power and scientific advances, we can and will do even better in the future."

The installation of the new supercomputer, which will be housed at IBM's Gaithersburg, Md. facility, will be completed by September 30, 2002, and will be integrated into routine operations beginning in the Spring of 2003. The transition of operations to the new system will be completed by the end of July 2003.

"The accuracy of environmental forecast models today is approaching levels undreamed of 10 years ago," said Lautenbacher. "As a result of this new supercomputer, the National Weather Service can run more powerful models with improved physics to produce forecasts with better resolution, accuracy and lead times than ever before."

These powerful computers incorporate vast amounts of data to generate important guidance to weather forecasters. New capabilities and speed in supercomputing will allow the National Weather Service to anticipate weather conditions five to seven days, or in some cases, 10 to 14 days in advance. The new supercomputer will also provide the computational resources needed for more reliable seasonal climate forecasts for the country.

"Science is the key to better forecasting," said Jack Kelly, director of NOAA's National Weather Service, "but computational power is the engine that propels us forward. Advances in supercomputing technology have made it possible for us to obtain additional processing power to make more reliable weather and climate forecasts."

Rapid weather changes require a continual updating of numerical prediction models that allow the forecasters to refine and update their forecasts as threatening weather situations develop across the country.

"The production of numerical predictions within the operational time windows required by field forecasters is one of the most computationally intensive undertakings ever attempted within an operational environment," said Louis Uccellini, director of the NWS' National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP), which operates the supercomputer. "Precision in forecasting–both short-term and long-term–is the goal we are trying to reach. Having advanced technology like the supercomputer gives meteorologists the information they need, on a consistent, reliable schedule."

The contract with IBM will deliver a complete system to NOAA, including a full range of hardware (storage devices, communications interfaces, and other peripherals), software, system maintenance and support, facility services and support, and consulting services.

The contract is the result of a streamlined, competitive procurement process initiated by the Department of Commerce and conducted on a full and open basis.