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Supercomputer Reproduces a Cyclone’s Birth, May Boost Forecasting

Posted by alec8c on July 26, 2010


 

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/07/100721121701.htm

ScienceDaily (July 23, 2010) — As a teen in his native Taiwan, Bo-wen Shen observed helplessly as typhoon after typhoon pummeled the small island country. Without advanced forecasting systems, the storms left a trail of human loss and property destruction in their wake. Determined to find ways to stem the devastation, Shen chose a career studying tropical weather and atmospheric science.

Now a NASA-funded research scientist at the University of Maryland-College Park, Shen has employed NASA’s Pleiades supercomputer and atmospheric data to simulate tropical cyclone Nargis, which devastated Myanmar in 2008. The result is the first model to replicate the formation of the tropical cyclone five days in advance.

To save lives from the high winds, flooding, and storm surges of tropical cyclones (also known as hurricanes and typhoons), forecasters need to give as much advance warning as possible and the greatest degree of accuracy about when and where a storm will occur. In Shen’s retrospective simulation, he was able to anticipate the storm five days in advance of its birth, a critical forewarning in a region where the meteorology and monitoring of cyclones is hampered by a lack of data.

At the heart of Shen’s work is an advanced computer model that could improve our understanding of the predictability of tropical cyclones. The research team uses the model to run millions of numbers — atmospheric conditions like wind speed, temperature, and moisture — through a series of equations. This results in digital data of the cyclone’s location and atmospheric conditions that are plotted on geographical maps.

Scientists study the maps and data from the model and compare them against real observations of a past storm (like Nargis) to evaluate the model’s accuracy. The more the model reflects the actual storm results, the greater confidence researchers have that a particular model can be used to paint a picture of what the future might look like.

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