NOAA, Microsoft partner to bring climate models to the clouds • The Register

The future of meteorological simulations and forecasts may be in the clouds – well, cloud data centers anyway.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on Wednesday announced a strategic partnership with Microsoft Azure to explore the use of cloud computing to advance climate research.

However, this isn’t a cash grab Microsoft can resort to government funding for. The year-long project will be conducted under a collaborative research and development agreement (CRADA), which allows NOAA to contribute personnel, facilities and intellectual property to the project, but no funding.

For its part, Microsoft may contribute funding, although in this case the cloud giant is more likely to provide access to computing resources and expertise. The registry contacted NOAA and Microsoft for comment; We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.

According to NOAA, the collaboration will explore the use of Microsoft’s cloud computing resources to advance five key areas of research and development. These include:

  • Supporting NOAA’s Earth Prediction Innovation Center (EPIC) in testing Earth system models on Microsoft Azure.
  • Using machine learning to improve NOAA’s climate and forecasting models.
  • Integrate Microsoft’s data collection, processing, and storage capabilities to facilitate distribution of the agency’s fisheries survey.
  • Development of a searchable catalog of oceanic observations.
  • Designing weather modeling and forecasting systems that can integrate data from internal and external resources.

The partnership follows an earlier collaboration between NOAA, Microsoft and satellite service provider Xplore this summer. The project – also being carried out as part of a CRADA – demonstrated the use of Azure’s orbital platform to connect and download data from NOAA’s polar satellites, thereby extending their effective lifetime.

The year-long project is also investigating the use of Xplore’s Major Tom mission control software to transmit commands to the NOAA-18 satellite.

NOAA’s supercomputing muscle

It remains to be seen whether NOAA’s collaboration with Microsoft will result in larger investments in cloud resources. Either way, the agency’s reliance on supercomputers isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

For one thing, it’s no secret that cloud resources are far more expensive than deploying hardware on-premises. Second, this summer NOAA just flipped two shiny new supercomputers that are said to be three times more powerful than their predecessors and capable of longer, more detailed forecasts.

The Cactus and Dogwood supercomputers, located in Phoenix, Arizona and Manassas, Virginia respectively, were developed by General Dynamics in collaboration with HPE for more than US$150 million. According to NOAA, the redundant systems support larger models with higher resolution than previously possible.

This “will allow us to better understand the physical processes going on in Earth systems, like cloud formation, precipitation formation and so on,” said Brian Gross, director of the Environmental Modeling Center for the National Weather Service , said The registry in a June interview.

The systems are expected to cost up to $505 million over their lifetime.

Microsoft climate cooperation in Great Britain

With this in mind, there are precedents for migrating meteorology and climate models to the cloud. Earlier last year, the UK Meteorological Office (MET) commissioned Microsoft to host its own climate models on Azure’s supercomputing-as-a-service platform.

As part of the deal, which would see the UK government contributing £1.2 billion, Microsoft deployed HPE’s Cray EX supercomputers alongside its own compute and data services in four quadrants in the south of the UK. Meanwhile, Azure’s data archive systems provided storage for more than four exabytes of data used by MET’s models. And in the spirit of the project’s climate focus, the systems would be powered by renewable energy.

After a lawsuit by the French supercomputer supplier Atos was narrowly avoided at the end of this spring, it is clear that this project will move forward. ® NOAA, Microsoft partner to bring climate models to the clouds • The Register

Rick Schindler

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