Mainframe Helps Predict and Monitor Weather in UK and China

By Dan O'Brien

In early December, the notoriously polluted Beijing experienced its first red alert for smog—a designation that was, in part, enacted because of forecasts computed on the mainframe.

The power and scalability of z Systems is particularly well-suited to forecasting the weather. In Beijing, engineers crunch data from factories’ infrared profiles, local social media posts, and more to develop a profile of pollution up to three days in advance, with trend forecasting that extends as far as 10 days out, according to science news website Phys.org.

This intense level of monitoring and forecasting is critical to China’s long-term pollution-control strategy. In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, as well as last year’s APEC summit, among other large, global events, China shut down factories and limited the number of cars it allowed on the road. The economic consequences of this large-scale effort, however, were steep. More accurate pollution monitoring, according to the article, will allow China to take a more nuanced approach to smog control.

In practice, this will mean cities such as Beijing will be able to use the mainframe "to target specific activities in particular locations and times with the maximum effect, but with much less impact on economic activity and the daily lives of citizens," IBM scientist Zhang Meng told Phys.org.

British scientists have also had great success using the mainframe for predictive weather monitoring. Met Office, the national weather service in the United Kingdom, employs the mainframe to automatically collect more than 10 million weather observations daily, from both satellites and earthbound observation stations, resulting in 4.2 million forecasts. Not only is the mainframe able to handle the workload with ease, it’s able to facilitate the kind of reliable analysis so necessary when predicting something as important—and fickle—as the weather.

“It is very important for the Met Office to provide information, services and products in a timely fashion and reliably,” Phil Evans, director of government services for Met Office, told IBM. “That really depends on a highly resilient IT infrastructure to support our services. The IBM mainframe is critical to that.”

Met Office also estimates that these predictions have helped reduce carbon emissions by about 20 million tons annually—yet another reason Beijing’s environmental engineers have made a smart decision by relying on the mainframe. It’s helping China’s citizens cope with pollution today while setting the stage for a less smog-filled tomorrow.

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